Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Suggestion: Dungeon's and Dragons Red Box

I've had a few friends ask me this holiday season about what they can get for their nerdy friends and family. Depending on the recipients type of "nerd," I've recommended a few different things.

This post is about the Dungeons and Dragons Red Box Set, which I recommend to anyone even vaguely interested in getting into (or back into) Dungeons and Dragons. For less than $20 ($14 on Amazon at the time of this post), you can get a gift which will provide hours of entertainment for 1-5 players.

For those of you that played D&D as a kid, a lot has changed in the last few years, and definitely for the better. Wizards of the Coast, owner of D&D, has put a lot of work into the game's rules to make it easier for everyday gamers to pick up and run with it. The Red Box has everything you need for you and your friends to start your own adventures together.

To start off your adventure, there's a Choose Your Own Path style book that walks you through character creation. You decide what actions your character will take in the story and those decisions set key features and stats for your character.

After each party member goes through the character creation book, there's a simple 1-player encounter that gives you a sense of combat rules from both the DM and player's perspective. If you decide you're not a fan of the character you've made, you can easily go back and make changes before moving on to the main adventure.

The main adventure is a good introduction to dungeon crawling and combat, for both the Dungeon Master and players. It's designed for a party of 5 adventurers and 1 DM, but you really only need 1 of each.

You can use the provided tokens in the box or use mini figures from other games. For my games, I use a mix of both.

The dungeon adventure provided in the box gives a full experience to players both new and old, exposing a wide variety of dungeon features like traps, puzzles, ambushes, and traitors. By the end of the adventure, all the players should have had a decent exposure of the game and know if D&D is something they'd like to get into. Otherwise, it's just another good game for those longer boardgame sessions.

If it turns out D&D is in fact your thing, the Dungeon Master booklet provides a decent amount of information about how to continue playing, either with the characters and plots provided in the Red Box, or starting from scratch with some new characters.

I've played through the adventure in the box twice now, once with a group of complete beginners and once with some old school D&D players. Both games went very well and by the end of the evening, both parties wanted me to organize a reoccurring game.

I'm now running a custom D&D campaign every other week with what used to be a bunch of newbies, all because of one game with the Red Box. I can't tell you how proud they were of themselves when they took out the powerful sorcerer that was attempting to unleash untold evil into the world. What started out as a group of strangers is now a lean mean fighting machine that works through riddles, traps and puzzles together.

I'm such a proud DM! *Sniffles.*

Monday, December 17, 2012

T-Shirt Yarn & Knit Throw

Ever wondered what to do with all your old t-shirts? Here's an idea: Knit a Throw and Quilt a Blanket.

I've been saving t-shirts since college, either designs I like or from shirts special events. The plan has always been to make a t-shirt quilt, but when I finally started cutting the shirts for the quilt, I found I had a lot of extra fabric.

Trying to decide what to do with all this extra t-shirt fabric, I remembered a recent fad on Pinterest to make t-shirt yarn.

Here's a quick look at what I've been doing with each shirt to get the most out of the fabric.

These are the cuts that I do to each shirt, making sure that the design has enough blank space around it for taste and seam allowances.

I cut off the hems and cut out all of the seams from the shoulders and armpits. These seams around the armpits, shoulders and collar are the only parts of the shirt I discard.

The sleeve and bottom hems I cut the joining seams out (if there are any), leaving the hem intact and as a long strip. Then I attach all the hems together using Stop Her, She's Knitting's technique for joining t-shirt strips.

The hem yarn I add to an ever growing ball that I'll likely make a bag out of later.

Everything else on the shirt I use to make a ball of yarn, aside from the design. That is put aside for my quilt project. The bottom tube and sleeves are made into a long strips of yarn via Polka Dot Pineapple's method and then the blank back of the shirt I cut into long strips. I attach all the strips together to get a pretty decent sized ball of yarn.

With all the yarn produced, I decided to knit a simple throw for the couch, something I could add to through the years and not worry about the exact measurements of my yarn.
Each shirt section is 10 stitches wide and I knit until I run out of yarn for that shirt. The plan is to loosely cast-off when I run out of shirts for this batch and undo the cast-off when I want to add more in the future. The yarn is pretty forgiving (hello single ply) and I'm not too worried about knots or gauges.

Don't mind the mess on my table. It doesn't always look that bad... Swear.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Suggestion: The Discworld Series

I've recently rediscovered the Discworld universe and have since been submerged in the Ankh's murky depths, to the point of near obsession. While staying up way past your bedtime with a flashlight under the covers isn't nearly as frowned upon when you're an adult, it's still something my mother rolls her eyes at.

This is my attempt to get you, my reader, as interested in this amazing world as I am.

Welcome to Discworld

A new reader to the universe of the Disc, a world carried on the back of four giant elephants who ride on the back of the Great A'Tuin (an enormous turtle) through the depths of space, might at first be a bit overwhelmed. At the time of this writing, there are over 30 books in the series, focusing on several different main characters. Due to the enormity of Prachett's world, several reading list suggestions have been created, organized by either time or main character plot lines. One favorite, if not slightly out of date, reading guide is's Visual Reading Guide.

What I'd recommend for anyone dipping a toe into this vast world is to start at the beginning of one of the main plot lines. Below I outline each of the main character series, listing the books in order of publishing or suggested reading. Which series you start with is up to you!

Rincewind (& the Wizards)

Rincewind is the character that starts it all. His debut in The Color of Magic leads the reader on a wild adventure all around the Disc, giving them a simple taste of what this world has to offer. He's a Wizzard (yes, that's spelled right) who's only skills seems to be getting himself into, and then subsequently out of, trouble. The first novel he features in is the first of the entire series, where he ends up as an unlikely tour guide to the Discworld's first ever tourist, Twoflower. From there his adventures only seem to grow.

I recommend the Rincewind plot line for any reader looking for a hero with a little bit more cowardice, and an adventure with a lot more satire.

The Color Magic
The Light Fantastic
Interesting Times
The Last Continent
The Last Hero
Unseen Academicals

The Witches

Discworld Witches aren't what you'd normally expect from a fantasy series. They're better. Sure, there's flying brooms and cauldrons of bubbling liquid, but really that's just all to keep up appearances. These witches much prefer to use "headology" than magic to get things done, and it tends to work out for the better.

In the Witches plot line of the Discworld novels, you meet and follow the adventures of Granny Weatherwax and her unlikely allies in the battle against general ignorance. If you're looking for a series with a little bit of magic and some strong (that's an understatement) female protagonists, this is the one for you.

Equal Rites
Wyrd Sisters
Witches Abroad
Lords and Ladies
Carpe Jugulum


Now there's a fellow who knows how to live. If you think I'm kidding, you're in for a treat when you read books starring the Disc's most prominent character. While Death makes an appearance in almost every Discworld book, he and his granddaughter (you'll find out), star in a subset of the novels, starting with when Death decides to take on an Apprentice.

I recommend the Death plot line for any reader with a darker side of humor and that can stand to look at humanity from a somewhat different, if not amusing, perspective.

The City Watch

Ankh-Morpork is the largest and most populated city on the Disc, and as such, is in a constant state of near-chaos. I say near-chaos as the system of weights and balances created by the guilds seems somewhat to keep it all working (there's one for each major city lifestyle: thievery, assassination, and clowning, just to name a few). In this subseries you learn about the internal workings of the big city, including the grease that keeps the gears running, the City Watch.

Led by the unlikely hero Sam Vimes and his even more unlikely crew of officers (including a werewolf and a secret king), the stories of the City Watch give you an inside look at what happens when a fantasy world and it's character hit the real-life problems of civilization.

I recommend this series for anyone that likes the tradition character types of the fantasy genre, but wants to see a more realistic telling of their coexistence. Also, anyone that loves reading. This might be a spoiler, but this is by far my favorite subseries in Discworld

Guards! Guards!
Men at Arms
Feet of Clay
The Fifth Elephant
Night Watch


There are a few other small subseries out there, including a young adult subseries that follows the adventures of a young witch named Tiffany (how perfect, right?). I've decided not to include these novels in my review because I feel that if you're going to jump into (or just taste) the Discworld series, the subseries outlined above are definitely where you should be starting.

Also, I haven't read them all yet, mainly because I'm afraid of finishing them and having nothing else to read. Sure, there's boardgames to entertain me, but it's just not the same as getting lost in a good book.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tis the Season To Learn: Snowboarding

Falling sucks.

It hurts, hopefully not a lot, and it's exhausting to get back up. I'm not speaking metaphorically here. I'm talking about actually falling. Face-planting, butt-slamming, falling. Catching an edge and just tanking it face first into the snow. Leaning too far and suddenly seeing sky. Turning too hard, too fast, too wreckless and becoming personal with a tree.

I hate falling.

Then again, it has it's benefits. You get a rest, for starters. It might be a little cold with your jacket shoved up to your ears and snow jammed into your pants, but, a rest is a rest. You get to catch your breath, enjoy the scenery, make a snow angel, learn what to do differently next time.

That last one's tricky. The words "next time" kind of loom over your thought processes while you're face down in an embankment. Sometimes it's hard to convince yourself that you'll even allow there to be a "next time." You're too busy focusing on finding your gloves, your hat, your breath, your dignity to contemplate getting back up and sliding towards your next encounter with the ground.

But that's the trick to learning, isn't it? To keep getting back up. Brush off the snow from your previous mistakes and try again. With any luck, your next tumble will be into something softer, or someone friendlier, and hopefully, rather much later than sooner.

Either way, look on the bright side. You're probably getting better.

I know I am, at least.

Growing up, I took to skiing immediately. My parents enrolled my brother and I in ski school and I was a natural. My brother was not. He dropped out, switched to snowboarding and never looked back. I became the skier in the family. I was the skier in college, too. When my friends from out of state were strapping on snowboards, I was skiing backwards down the hill teaching them how to snowboard.

That's the funny thing. Growing up with a snowboarder riding beside me, I learned how a snowboarder should snowboard.  I could watch people and tell them where to shift their weight, when to switch from heel to toe, etc. And, if you strapped me to a snowboard, I could apply my knowledge and get down the mountain. Not very well or very quickly, mind you, but still down the mountain. This season I'm determined to change that.

I've already committed 2 snow trips entirely to practicing the sport, and I'm getting more confident with every one. Sure, last Saturday I face-planted hard enough to knock the breath out of me and fear for my teeth.. BUT! It was on a blue run.

I doubt I'll ever be fearless on a snowboard, but that's okay. I'm not fearless on skis. The important thing is that I'm learning how to fall, get back up, and keep going.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Make Mistakes: The Red Bandito

I can't seem to follow knitting patterns that aren't toys. Scarves and hats and cowls.. I always want to try  some sort of tweak. You think I'd have learned by now.. but no, I shall never stop hacking knitting patterns and making mistakes.

There's a fabulous pattern called the Bandana Cowl from the Purl Bee that I've had my eyes on for awhile. I decided to use my extra skein of Queensland Collection Kathmandu Chunky left over from the Squish-Squash Cable Hat (it's so nice and squishy!) and give it ago. My crazy modifications are below (be warned, they're notes more for myself).

Gauge check is 3.5 st st per inch (on 9's?!) so.. .875 diff times 89 = 77. 875.. Do 79 stitches? 80 for a ribbed pattern?
Based on Konabuck Alpaca Bandana recommendation of doing stitches based on desired finish size, I'm doing 22" x 3.5 st gauge check to get a total of 77, which is close enough to my gauge check I'm going to do 80 total. (Which is funny, because that's what I did for my Squish-Squash Cable Hat).

Annnd then I cast on 84 instead cause I had the extra tail and why not?

k1, p1 for starter rounds instead of garter.

For first decrease round, work for 40 stitches, then do S2KPO.

Worked k1,p1 with decreases in middle (the second stitch you slip for the S2KPO should be the previous result of the S2KPO) until 76 stitches.

Then, k39, wrap, turn etc as pattern till bored (or til there are 48 stitches between your turns).

knit 2 rounds, then put markers at st 16 and then 44 from there (16-5 = 11; 76-11= 65; 65-16-5 = 44).

Did three decreases with 3 rounds knit between them, then the rest with just 2 rounds between. Then 6 rounds of k1, p1 and Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Cast Off.

I'm not sure I actually like my version more or not. 

I'm not sure I'm going to frog it or weave in the ends and try it out on the slopes. Who knows! Maybe this will just be yet another great knitting experiment with no results!

Tell you what, though, taking pictures was sure fun.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Recipe: Coloradan Green Chili

There's something about chili on a cold winter's evening that's purely Coloradan. It's hearty and warm and.. just.. delicious. Southern Colorado is best known for it's amazing Green Chili recipes dishes. Burritos, omelets, potatoes and smothered in pork or vegetarian Green Chili are some of my favorites, or just a bowl of the stuff, topped with cheese and sour cream.

My sister-in-law has a recipe that we've all grown to love in the family and she's agreed to let me share it here. So, without much further ado, I present to you a Coloradan Green Chili.

Coloradan Green Chili

2lbs Meat (we use ground elk or pork)
3 14oz cans Diced Tomatoes
2 14oz cans Pinto Beans
Jar of 505 Green Chile sause (Large jar is pictured, but you only need a small one)
24oz can of Green Enchilada
1/2 cup chopped Onion
10-12 Roasted Green Chiles, cut into chunks. Use whichever temperature you want.

We prepare everything in a large pot (or dutch oven, or crock pot).

Brown meat the with the onion. You want to REALLY brown the meat, because while it simmers it will soften up a bit. Don't stir it too much while you're cooking the meat so that it really darkens.

In your large pot, add the rest of the ingredients. Stir well and bring to a boil.

Once it reaches a boil, reduce to simmer for at least 4 hours. The longer you let it simmer the better, as the flavor grows. The second day tends to taste better than the first.

If you used meat that produced a bit of grease, make sure you skim that off the top occasionally. You want the chile to be more brothy and chunky than greasy.

The longer the chili simmers, the more flavorful it will be. Once it's simmered for long enough, help yourself to a heaping ladle full, top with your favorite extras, and enjoy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tutorial: Lining Knitwear

Last year I made Miss Natalie a Christmas stocking based on a Jennifer Hoel's Falling Snow Stocking from Ravelry. I modified it a fair amount, including adding a lining. I took lots of pictures and recorded the steps so I could recreate it when niece/nephew number 2 came along, and now I've decided to share those steps here, as the Christmas season looms.

These steps could be used to line any kind of knitwear, with little to no modifications.

Lining Knitwear 

- Fabric
- Sewing machine (or other means)

I went with a basic quilters cotton for the fabric. I went ahead and got a yard to ensure I had enough, but could have gotten by with less.

Block knitting to desired size and lay flat on top of fabric.

Trace a line about 1/2 - 3/4 inch from the edge of the knitwear. Then add another 1/4 inch seam allowance and cut out 2 pieces.

Fold over and press a line at the top edge so that when you have it in the stocking and folded over, it lines up just under the knitting's "hem". Unfold the fabric before you sew the sides together, you just want to get the line pressed in this step.

Sew the two pieces of fabric together, right-sides (sides with the print) facing.

Trim any excess fabric you might have so that there’s about 1/4 inch seam allowance. Cut silts to the sewn edge on the curves, about every couple of inches. This will help the shaping when it’s flipped inside out.

Put the lining as is inside of your stocking. Then, turn the whole thing inside out so that the right-side of the fabric is on the outside and the right-side of the knitting is on the inside.

Fold top the extra top bit of fabric and pin it just under the Latvian Plait braid stitches, using the line you pressed before sewing.

Sew the two layers together, positioning it so that you’re sewing on top of the purl bumps under the braid. You should pull the knitting as taunt as the fabric will allow. If you machine sew it, have the knitting side up, otherwise your feeders will have a field day with the yarn. 

If all goes well, when left to do it’s own thing, the braid should hide your stitches. 


Saturday, November 24, 2012

How to Fix Dropped Stitches

I originally was going to write a blog post with pictures but I was in the mood to try my hand at making a video. Let me know if anyone finds this helpful.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cherpumple: Challenge Accepted

My friends have a tradition of making Turducken each year for Thanksgiving and this was the first year I was able to attend the event. The organizers of the party requested that I make a dessert as epic as the main course. A Cherpumple.

For those of you that don't know what a Cherpumple is, here's the description from the Wikipedia page:
cherpumple is a holiday novelty dessert, inspired by Turducken, where several different flavor pies are baked inside of several different flavors of cake, and then stacked together.
 The recipe is straight forward enough: Bake 3 pies; Bake the pies into 3 cakes; Stack cakes; Frost the shiznit out of it.

For my pies, I used store bought Apple, Pumpkin and Cherry pies. I baked each as the per the directions on their box.

I bought a 9" Springform pan to bake the cakes in. I just used the box cakes and followed the recipes for each flavor. I put a layer of batter in the bottom of the pan before adding the pies, which fit exactly.

After the pie was added, I put the remaining batter into the pan. The Cherry pie went into Chocolate cake, Pumpkin into Spice, and Apple into Yellow.

The pies fit so perfectly into the cake pan that you can see the crust in each cake, the chocolate best of all.

Each layer of the cake was heavy, and I stacked them chocolate, spice and yellow. After a night of sitting, though, the bottom cake started to leak filling from the weight. In the future I'd likely stack it so the pumpkin pie layer was on the bottom, then apple, then cherry.

I put a generous layer of frosting between each layer. You can see the effect of the weight on the layers already.

I piped generous amounts of frosting onto the sides and top, then smoothed it out to seal everything in.

The next morning we had some leakage in the bottom layer and I used some fondant pumpkin patches to seal them up. Also to just add some decoration.

After we all stuffed ourselves silly with Turducken, I had the honor of trying to slice the cake. It was definitely a balancing act to serve up each slice, but the presentation was pretty impressive.

Each slice was split between 2 or 3 people and at the end of the night, half the cake still remained. Most people tended to like the mix of flavors, though I think most people agreed that it would be better without the pie crust.

Cherpumple was definitely an adventure in baking, construction and consumption, but I doubt I'll make it again. It's fun, but kind of a big sticky mess of wasted food, unless you're feeding 50+ people.