Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What it means to be a "gamer"

This past weekend I attended my third PAX. I really love PAX. I love that geeky, nerdy gamers take over downtown Seattle. I love seeing cosplayers walk down the street without an ounce of self doubt. Walking into the exhibition hall for the first time and your senses go into overdrive just to try to process a fraction of what is going on. It is an awe-inspiring experience.

However, PAX has always also instilled in me a seed of self consciousness. For you see I am not a stereotypical gamer. It is true that I love board games and card games. I enjoy Magic (but I'm not very good). I love a good puzzle game. However, I can not play a first person shooter to save my life especially on a console. I did make it through half of the original Halo on my computer. I stopped because I only played in the middle of the night when my parents were in bed and well the Flood just scared me to death. Plus I had watched Michael play through Halo AND I had read the book so you know I knew how it all ended. I did almost finish Kingdom Hearts on the PS2, but I refused to spend an hour fighting the final boss (because once again I had watched Michael finish it first).

If you haven't caught on yet, there is a theme here. I enjoy watching video games. I have watched my husband, Michael, play through all of the Halo games, a few GTAs (He actually finished GTA IV without me and I was upset. I was invested in that story.), Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (I helped with the puzzle rooms), Final Fantasy and Borderlands (I actually have willingly watched him play this one several times over) just to name a few. So I appreciate these huge epic games (expect MMOs those are boring to watch in my opinion), but I just do not have the skill to play them or the patience to cultivate such skills.

 So I can converse about some many of the hottest games on the market, but I can't saw I have played any of them. I sometimes feel like a pariah. Then it does not help that the games I do enjoy playing are very much in the "casual" game arena. I like games on portable systems. The iPad and 3DS are my gaming systems of choice and I like puzzle games and RPGs. I love checking out the indie game section of PAX where half the games are on iPads. Even though I know there is no shame in this being what I enjoy, I still know someone out there doesn't consider me a "gamer" or probably thinks I'm a poser.

This seed of self-doubt usually doesn't stop me from doing what I want to do during PAX expect in one instance. My husband and I made it into the Gearbox Panel on Sunday. Like I mentioned earlier, Michael loves playing Borderlands and I love watching it. Borderlands 2 looks even more awesome and I actually think I might play around with it. It was near the end of the Panel and the floor was open to questions. Many people were just expressing their love of the game and then I thought "Man I wish I could tell them that their game is so awesome that I have enjoyed watching my husband play through it multiple without ever picking up a controller myself." I however quickly squashed the idea of approaching the mic line. I knew the room was full of hard core gamers and that I would be looked upon as a fraud and even the girl gamers in the audience might judge me harshly (the females might think I'm reinforcing some stereotype). So I stayed in my seat and let my thanks and appreciation go unvoiced.

Reflecting on that moment and the feelings that motivated it makes me feel frustrated and sad. Firstly, I'm frustrated with myself for caring that much about what an audience of strangers think. I shouldn't care. I proudly wear an assortment of odd, geeky shirts in public every day without caring if "normal" people judge me. Why should a room full of gamers intimidate me? Secondly, I'm sad that even at a convention like PAX I still don't feel like I'm in a totally safe, non-judgmental space.

Now I'm not saying PAX is bad or I don't feel welcomed. I do. Otherwise I wouldn't keep coming back. I can come to PAX dressed as Mabel from Gravity Falls and be told I made someone's con and go home that night full of wonderful fuzzy feelings. I guess I am saying PAX is not perfect. Not yet.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Coffee Shop

I went for caffeine and a place to read more articles for school without the distractions of home. However, today the world was bustling and human interactions is fascinating

At the table behind me was a group of 60-something year old ladies who from what I can overhear of their conversation are interior decorators. They talk about colors with such passion and opinion. They debated the merits of painting one's walls such colors as raspberry. One woman was all for it, but other declared she had to have neutral colored walls. It was quite refreshing to hear such discussion when normally I'm surrounded by programmers arguing about "user experiences".

Two other women across the shop had been there talking longer than I and I'd been reading for over an hour. Their drinks had been empty for quite a while, but their conversation had yet to dry up. I wonder how often they have coffee dates? It would be a delightful thing if the could carry on such lengthy conversations every week.

An older man, sweet with age came in and got a viente cup of something. As I watched him put in sugar, I wondered if he just got a coffee or if the old man would surprise me with an espresso drink. He walked pass my table and waved and said hello. He wanted to know if I played chess. He'd set up a table outside. Sadly I have no clue how to play. He introduced himself as Vincent and walked out to his table. He just sat there with his chess set waiting for someone to ask to play with him. It just seemed so European or maybe small town or big city for him to just sit there waiting for a volunteer. It made me a bit sad that I couldn't indulge him. I feel like he would have told many interesting stories to whoever sat opposite him.

My goals when entering the coffee shop were fulfilled. I had drank my allotted amount of caffeine for the day and I finished my article about the perseverance of paper in the digital world. But I must say I felt more fulfilled by my observations of the people in that little coffee shop than by ticking a couple of things off my to-do list.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Somethings Never Change

I can hardly believe that the time is almost upon me. I begin graduate school this week. When I last wrote in February, this week was only a dream.

One lovely thing I have encounter over the last couple of weeks, is that even after so many years of schooling I am still susceptible to the first day of school excitement. The type of excitement one gets when entering a new school full of new possibilities.

Once again I feel like I am seven years old. Hot, muggy, late days in August and it is time to pick out all my school supplies. I am so nervous, excited, and jittery. Yes, I had gone to kindergarten the year before, but that now hardly counted. It had only been half a day and we got to play for part of that time. Now I'd be in proper school. I will have desk, and I will have textbooks to put in it and my notebooks, folders, and pencils.

Then the nervous doubts creep in. What if I get assigned homework? How does homework even work? This mystical word everyone complains about, but no one actually takes any time to explain to an anxious seven year old. Then there is this how deal with lunch time. Yes we were taken for a test run at the end of kindergarten, but I don't think I remember it all. What if I do something wrong? Will the older kids ridicule me? Also riding home on the bus! I know how it works going to school, but I have no idea how to ride a bus home. Will my teacher remember that the morning kindergartens don't know this?

However, these nagging questions are once again squashed down in the excitement of picking out my first day of school outfit. I block out my older sister complaining about middle school and focus on how  great everything was going to be. I'm going to school!

It is truly amazing how little we change even after all these years. I've gone to four schools and I believe I have  been just this excited and nervous about each new place. This time is no exception. I've done the college thing, but this is different. I have to ride the bus over to Seattle. I've never commuted during the morning rush so I'm worried about every little thing that could go wrong. I've only spent maybe twenty minutes on UW's campus so will I be able to remember my way to the buildings?  How will I cope with writing papers that are not about history?

Then I just push all those thoughts away as a huge smile slides across my face. I'm starting school again! I have a whole group of classmates and professors to meet. I have a new notebook to fill with information. I love learning new things! I know in a month or less I will be complaining about due dates and papers and the excessive amount of work I have to get done, but on the eve of the first day none of that matters.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reflection Pool

I would like to get one thing out in the open. One fact that I think most people over look in their rush of everyday life. Working, chores, shopping, bills, and decisions mask it. I am sure that if this break in my life had not have come about I would be just the same. If I went straight from undergraduate to graduate work or right into a normal job, the forward momentum of my life would have stopped me from reflecting and coming upon this revelation: Growing up is weird.
Usually a person in their early twenties does not have time to reflect on the oddness of it all. However, my mind which is use to having a thousand things floating around in it now is unoccupied. Which leads me to thinking about lots of things that usually do not get priority. The sorts of random thoughts that pop up when you are waiting for a pot of water to boil and your mind is adrift, but those thoughts are quickly discarded when you remember that you haven't called your mom in two weeks or that you haven't done laundry yet this month. 
Recently I have been reflecting on my hometown. I had one of those epiphany moments where I begun to mull over the idea of my childhood home actually being a bit on the odd side. This idea has popped up before when I tried to explain the city to others who did not grow up there. Now that I am living in a different city, different state, different part of the country, I have thought even more about the place where I grew up. According to acquaintances that still live there I have joined the coveted ranks of "those you have gotten out". 
Now a few things about my hometown. It is first a college town, but it is not a "college town". There are three four year colleges plus several community colleges. However, I never believed it really defined my town. The town was not there because of the universities and many people lived there without any ties to any of them. However, I had never lived anywhere where there wasn't a university and man do I know realize how much it might have been a factor in my life.
Don't get me wrong I love where I live. I do love being so close to a major city, but I never realized what actually living in a suburban area without those thousands of college age kids does. As teenagers and college kids we always complained there was nothing to do in our town. We bemoaned the lack of good music scene. We hated that there wasn't a decent game shop (Toys R Us does NOT count). 
Now I do have some of those things. I can go into Seattle for music and well game shops are everywhere here. However, now the world falls asleep at 8pm. I never realized I'd miss college folks so much. Only thing open past 10pm is the 24 hour QFC (Kroger). I can't go out for pancakes at 1 am if I want to or coffee for that matter. I live minutes from the coffee capital of the US, but I can't get a latte after 7 pm.  
I am sure someone out there is screaming at their screen "But you live minutes from a big city! Can't you just hop over there." Yes, yes but that means planning and deciding and driving quite a bit more than one would want to for an impromptu coffee or stack of pancakes late at night. Also I have yet to fully master the city. That is one of the goals of the summer. Spending enough time in the city that it begins to be familiar. 
The moral to this little revelation? Sometimes I believe we are too hard on our hometowns.
We always believe everything will be better when we move away. Anyplace must be better than this one. When in reality everyplace has its downfall. We do not realize this until we move away and reflect. I miss my 24 hour diners and late night coffee shops. 
However, I love my new home with wonderful abandon. Evergreen trees! Mountains! Lake Washington! I love the community and the culture. I would not give it up now. But then again nothing here seems older than 1950. It makes me miss the early 20th century architecture of my hometown. So next time you begin to go on about how much you can't wait to leave your hometown. "Anywhere must be better than here!" Remember, you might have to eat your some degree. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Poutine Adventure

One reason for starting this blog is the outrageous amount of time I have on my hands right now. During my three and half years of college I never had enough time and no break was ever long enough for me. Between work, classes, homework, and actually attempting to have a personal life I felt like I was burning my candle at both its ends. Now I have more time than I ever dreamed and I haven't decided if it is good or not.

However, now that I don't spend several hours a night reading textbooks and writing papers, I have time and the mental freedom to create.  This has led to huge gains in the arena of dinner and cooking. During college my husband and I would cook dinner together, but they were quick meals and were always the same quick meals. After freshmen year I refused to eat spaghetti (I am still burnt out on tomato pasta sauce).  Now meals do not have to be quick and we can branch out and try things that we have always wanted to eat. One that my husband has been wanting to try for months is poutine.
My kingdom for a buttered roll!

Poutine is a dish native to Quebec, Canada. My husband tried to find a restaurant in much closer British Columbia that served poutine, but he had no luck. However, he was able to find a website that detailed how to make the dish. It is really quite a simple, homey, greasy spoon type dish. It combines fries, fresh cheese curds, and brown gravy. The most demanding part of this recipe is making the gravy.

 Which sounds quite demanding. Who makes their own gravy? Only our grandmas who learned it from their mothers back when everything was made from scratch. Now making things from scratch is like bragging or being pretentious. Who has that much time or patience or talent? A good modern American makes everything from bags, bottles, and boxes right? However, prior to previous belief making a gravy from scratch or at least this one was quite simple.
Look at that gravy just simmering away. 
It is the only thing you actively need to "cook". It does take some time. The gravy needs time to simmer and reduce to make it more gravy-y.  It took us around 40 minutes. The fries we used were just your normal frozen fries from your local grocery store. 
The only other weird ingredient is the fresh cheese curds. Now I love cheese, but I have never had cheese curds. However, they are nothing to be afraid of especially once they are covered in gravy.

Nothing to be afraid of but their deliciousness.
Once the gravy has reduced and the fries are cook to a lovely crispness, it is time to assemble. And it creates a wonderful dish. Who can saw no to a plate full of fries and cheese? Now many of you may draw the line at the gravy because lets be honest that just sounds weird. But I plead, please lets think about it. Fries are just potatoes and we actively put gravy on mashed potatoes. Let me assure you that once that lovely peppery gravy soaks into the fries, you will be put right back to that place. Potatoes and gravy are meant for each other. 
Don't let the presentation fool you. I swear it a self preservation technique. 
The only complaint I had was that I was so full that I couldn't sop up all the extra gravy with a piece of buttered bread. I can predict using this gravy recipe in many different dishes. If you are really feeling adventurous you might want to try to make your own fries! 

Poutine  adapted from
Gravy or Veloute sauce
  • 1 quart stock: chicken or veal (We used chicken)
  • 1/4 cup flour (We used bleached all purpose
  • 1/4 cup butter or oil (We used unsalted butter.)
  • Pepper
Bring the stock to a boil in a saucepan.
Combine the fat and flour, cook over high heat, stirring until you have a pale roux (2-3 minutes).
Whip the roux into the stock. Simmer (30-40 min), skimming the surface every 5-10 minutes. (We did not really skim that much.) 
Strain the sauce through a chinois or strainer lined with cheesecloth. (We didn't follow this step at all) Salt and pepper to taste. (I suggest quite a bit of pepper. We didn't need the salt.)
Cook the fries as package suggests. The website suggests the McCain brand, but we couldn't find it so we just used Ore-Ida. I suggest finding fries that are between steak fries and thin shoestring fries. 
The Cheese curds need to be somewhat fresh. We got ours from the Whole Foods cheese section. If your grocery store has a gourmet cheese section I believe they should have them. 
Once your gravy and fries are done, put some cheese curds over your fries and then pour gravy over the plate. I suggest letting the gravy soak in for a minute or two (which will also let it cool to eat). 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hello World

My first tentative step into the world of blogging. The first searching step that one does not dare put their full weight on in case the unfamiliar ground would suddenly give way under her feet and dump her into hostile territory.

However, I can not let myself be deterred. I must go further up and further in! Exploration will be the theme of this blog. (In case you were wondering where this will all end up.) Now what will I be exploring and sharing with you the reader? The answer in truth will be everything.

I first was bitten by the blogging bug when I was introduced to a food blog which led to LOTS of food blogs. However, even though I loved the idea of a food blog I do not cook nearly enough to justify a blog solely centered around food. So I let the idea percolate in my mind for a few months while I finished my undergraduate degree, got married, and celebrated the holidays.

Now with all of that excitement behind me and a really odd transitional period in front of me, I have decided there could never be a better time to log how my life will now unfold. In other words I want to share my explorations and adventures whether it be culinary, cultural, literature, or music.

So please come with me on this journey. Let us go further up and further in and see just what the world has in store.