April Misses and May Goals

epcot

So it’s time for my monthly wrap-up! Who knew it was going to be May so soon? It completely snuck up on me, and unfortunately I didn’t really meet all my goals for April as a result.

To recap what I wanted to do, you can find the full post here.

I was able to control my spending on take-out even better this month, but pretty much all the other goals were either misses, or near-misses. I wasn’t able to get anything done in terms of knitting, and while I read more this month, I stalled out about 75% of the way through my second book. And keeping up with my PT exercises was kind of hit or miss. Better, but still not great.

So overall I really kind of missed the mark for April. But, with May now here I’m reinvigorated and motivated to really get some self-improvement done.

So here are the goals for this month:

1) Finish posting all the Disney photos on instagram.

The trip was more than three months ago now. Time to get them all up. If you want to follow along, go on and follow me @magpiemakingdo!

2) Be more active on the blog twitter.

I finally remembered my password for this, so I’m back in the tweeting game – and this time I want to be a little more proactive at networking and fostering bloggy relationships. So if you want to follow me there, head on over!

3) Spend no money on take out or fast food until my birthday week.

This means I have to make/bring every meal from home until the last week of May. Hopefully it’ll help me not only spend less money, but also eat healthier.

4) Post on the blog consistently every Tuesday and Thursday starting week 2.

I’ve had to put the “starting week two” caveat on this, mainly because, well, week one is already come and gone. Whoops.

5) Work on my blog photography.

This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I’ve had a DSLR for years at this point, and honestly? I still have no idea how to use it. Additionally, the blogging photography game has changed drastically since I first started a blog ohhhh eight thousand years ago in college. Flatlays? Backdrops? Props? All of these things weren’t really standard when I started my first blog. And while my photography has improved from that very beginning in my cramped, dark dorm room, stylistically I haven’t really changed adequately with the times. So I want to spend some time in May specifically devoted to that.

So here we go. Wish me luck, and we’ll check back in with these goals come June!

What are your goals for May?

Book Review: Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

I’ve got to be honest here – this one was a bit of a slog.

After how much I enjoyed Sabriel, how compelled I was to keep reading and finish to see what happened, Lirael was a bit of a let down.

It’s almost as if Nix sort of saw the failings of Sabriel (lack of solid character development before the plot goes racing off) and then overcorrected in the next book, because in Lirael there’s almost too much. We spend sooooo much time just kind of sitting with the characters before any serious motion begins to kick in with the plot that it gets tedious at points.

And that would be one thing if this was just a coming of age story for Lirael and the point was to just kind of follow along with her adventures in the library of the Clayr as she learns and grows. But that’s not the kind of book that it presents itself as. It’s established from the very start that there are major forces at work in the Old Kingdom. Major forces that hint not just at catastrophe, but possibly a full fledged apocalypse. With that kind of set up, all the time we then spend just kind of sitting with the characters starts to feel like it’s wasted. And as a reader, that got quite frustrating. Lirael struggles with her identity and the fact that she doesn’t fit in with the Clayr. Sam has a serious case of “I don’t want to take over the family business” and self-pity. And these characters just wrestle with these things over, and over, and over, and over again without any real evidence of significant change until about the last fifth of the book. On multiple occassions I found myself skimming whole pages and saying to myself, “Yes, yes, I know she’s still struggling now lets get to some plot movement.”

And that’s just it. Plot movement is ultimately what this book’s predecessor had (almost to excess) that was missing here, making it suffer from what I can only dub “set-up syndrome.” The entire novel seems like it’s nothing but set-up for something bigger to come in book three. Or at least as a reader, I hope that’s the case. It ends with a pretty big cliffhanger which does make you want to keep reading despite the slog that came before.

So here’s hoping Abhorsen does indeed pick up the pace, and manages to endear these characters to me a little bit more solidly so as to make the little struggles I had getting through this worth it.

In summary: This book has its moments, but ultimately ends up being not much beyond set up for the next novel – and that sometimes makes reading it feel like a chore.

Overall rating: 2.5/5

Would Recommend to: People who read Sabriel, and intend to read Abhorsen. I am really unsure about how this would stand on its own without the context of the trilogy.

—-
See my review of Sabriel here

March: The Good, The Bad, And the Goals.

As part of my plan for getting more consistent around here, I’ve decided to make it my goal to post a wrap-up of each month – this way I can sort of look at each month in review, identify what I accomplished and what needs improvement. I feel like it’s also going to be nice to have a handy list of what I’ve accomplished for myself (in addition to everything I know I’ve gotten done for work) over the last month. Hopefully it’ll be a handy guard against my anxiety creeping in and telling me I’m unproductive and lazy.

Now the shape this post takes may change as the year goes on, and as – hopefully – I get back in the habit of consistently posting on here. But for now, here we go!

THE GOOD

Sketchbook

1) Started drawing more frequently.

This has been on my goal list for years. I used to love drawing, and it’s nice to get back into the habit of doodling when I have some down time. On the flip side, it also means I want an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to play with SO BADLY now. And uhhh financially that’s just not going to happen.

Totoro mittens in progress

2) Finished one of my Totoro Mittens.

1 down, 1 to go. All I’ve got left is the thumb. Let’s DO this.

3) Read 1 Book for funsies (Review coming soon).

I finally finished Lirael, after sort of letting it linger half-finshed for a couple weeks. Review pending.

Undertow-Shawlette

4) Made progress on my Undertow Shawlette.

This too has been on the needles for years and I need to be done with it.

5) Spring Cleaned the Living Room.

The amount of cat hair I pulled up when I vacuumed the cat tree was truly horrifying.

one pot pasta

6) Cooked 60% of my meals at home over the last month.

I’m hoping this has saved me some moolah over the course of the month – because I’m going to need it.

CSI_Crime_Scene_Investigation_-_The_Complete_1st_Season_On_DVD

7) Finally finished watching the rest of CSI.

I had been a devoted fan of CSI since it first started airing in 2000. I have VHSs full of episodes that I begged my dad to tape off the air when I was in high school and had to miss for rehearsal sitting in my parents basement (ah, the days before on-demand). I watched almost religiously for 10 years – until grad school and teaching got so overwhelming that I just sort of lost track of it? It happened for basically all the TV shows that my dad didn’t also watch with me – I would just forget to tune in if I wasn’t reminded. Bones went the same way, and then NCIS did too once I moved out of my parent’s place and didn’t have my Dad to come tell me it was on anymore.

But anyway, I finally finished. I have kind of mixed feelings about it, to be honest, because this show was such a big part of my life for so long. It’s sad knowing there’s nothing new left for me to watch. On the other hand, it was admittedly was ready to end. It was getting pretty ridiculous in that last season with seemingly every other episode putting another member of the team in mortal danger. I also really didn’t care for Elizabeth Shue’s character at all (although I did quite like Ted Danson’s – which I didn’t expect, honestly). But it had just been with me for so long… it’s just kind of sad to have it done.

THE NOT SO GOOD

1) Fell on ice and screwed up my knee for two weeks.

Yea, that sucked. Honestly, the bruise is still in the process of fading.

2) The fall also triggered a regression of my shoulder issues since I haven’t been 100% the greatest at keeping up with my physical therapy exercises.

I hadn’t really said anything on here but the last year or so I had been struggling with a trapezius spasm that would not go away, and which then caused a chain reaction of mess with my shoulder. I know a muscle spasm doesn’t sound super serious, but good gracious did it interfere with being able to function – particularly since two of my jobs center around being able to play instruments and conduct, both of which are pretty shoulder intensive. I finished physical therapy and had the issues mostly tackled in early February, but I was supposed to keep up the routine of PT myself at home, and I’ve been sort of hit-and-miss with it the past few weeks because of work stuff. Well, my fall made it evident WHY I was supposed to keep those things up, because BAM, the spasm came back, and with it all my shoulder issues.

So yea, that sucks pretty hard.

3) Return of physical problems triggered a slight slip in staying on top of anxiety issues.

My anxiety very much revolves around health stuff – my mind immediately goes to the worst-case scenario when I don’t feel right. And so the return of physical pain (coupled with the fact that my body is responding differently to basically everything because of age and weight gain) has me on edge pretty much constantly.

4) Taxes, Car repairs, and general financial stress… oh my!

Yeaaaa, pretty self-explanatory.

THE GOALS

1) Spend even less money on take-out.

2) Read 2 books at least.

3) Finish the other Totoro Mitten by my self-imposed deadline.

4) Finish the Undertow Shawlette.

5) Keep up with my Physical Therapy exercises better.

So let’s see how I do.

What are your goals for April?

The Multi-year Totoro Mittens

Totoro mittens in progress

So I started these Norwegian Totoro Mittens (ravelry link)… uhhh… a long time ago. I actually am not sure when I started them, because of course I didn’t log them in my Ravelry Notebook. My Ravelry notebook that’s gone largely neglected the last few years.

Of course I didn’t.

But I do know that they’ve been on the needles a long time. Long enough to have stray strands of fur from my cat Genghis still knitted into them.* And Genghis has been pushing up daisies for several years now, soooo… there’s that.

But it’s time to be done with them. I’ve dragged them back out, and I want them OFF THE NEEDLES by this time next week. Mark my words.

Just in time for spring!

God gracious, do I need to get my knitting shit together.

Do you have a project that you’ve allowed to linger unfinished like this? Or are you someone who has to finish a project before they move onto the next? If so, can you teach me your ways?

———————-

*Non-pet owners – don’t judge… it’s pretty much impossible to avoid. Cat hair just clings to certain yarns.

One Pot Zucchini Mushroom Pasta

zucchini

So, idk about you but for the last few months I’ve been seeing these one-pot pasta recipes popping up everywhere. First they were on Pinterest, and then they migrated into facebook, and now I literally cannot seem to escape them.

So, I guess here I am. Trying my first one-pot pasta recipe.

I decided to give it a first shot using this One Pot Zucchini Mushroom Pasta from Damn Delicious. Honestly there’s no real reason why I chose this first. I found it on Pinterest and the pictures looked tasty.

I’m kind of an easy sell.

Prep was as easy as promised by the “one pot” moniker – You just chop everything up and throw it all in.

before stirring

I would recommend putting in the pasta close to the beginning instead of waiting for the end. I was hoping to get one of those artsy “Everything piled separately in the pot” photos, and while it looks okay – it was kind of hard to ensure the pasta was completely covered in the liquid once I poured that in because I guess uncooked pasta is hard to stir.

Who would have thought.

All in the pot

Anyway… I did make a few alterations as I went… because it wouldn’t be me if I actually followed the recipe to the letter.

I am good at many things. Making a recipe as written is not one of them.

So for starters, I threw in some vegetable stock instead of water (I used Better Than Bouillon to make the stock) hoping that this meant I could avoid salting it and also bypass the heavy cream so that it would be better for reheating. Idk about you, but I feel like cream sauces never quite taste right after they’ve been reheated.

I also left out the peas. Not for any particular reason. I just forgot them.

The result was nice and tasty, and of course, most importantly – quick and easy. The alterations worked just as I had hoped they would – although I will say that maybe I’d add less bouillon to the stock next time… I eyeballed it, and it turned out to almost be a little too salty for my tastes.

The only other thing is that this recipe makes a LOT of food. I’ll be eating this for days. So it’s probably best made if you’re cooking for at least two people instead of one.

one pot pasta

But overall, I’d call this recipe a success.

Have you cooked anything good lately?

So… Horizon Zero Dawn Feels Really Important.

So buckle up, birdies, because this post is going to be a little… all over the place. I don’t quite have my thoughts fully sorted on this matter, nor have I finished the game yet… but the bottom line is that Horizon Zero Dawn feels really important to me and I feel like I need to tell someone.

Horizon_Zero_Dawn

As far as video games go, it’s pretty impressive for all the typical reasons games can be impressive. The visuals are beyond beautiful, the soundtrack is great, the battle mechanics are interesting and unique, the enemies are legitimately terror inducing, and even on the easiest difficultly level (because while I love video games, I’m super bad at them) still pose enough of a challenge to keep the fighting exciting… The game is critically acclaimed for all the usual stuff.

And yet it still just feels so much more important than that to me.

The main character Aloy has a lot to do with it. The fact that she is THE scripted main character matters. She’s a fixed element in the story, as opposed to a player character that is chosen and sculpted by the player… and she’s a she.

horizon-zero-dawn-two-column-aloy-03-ps4-eu-22jun16

As a female who has been into video games for a long time, this still seems pretty revolutionary to me. It shouldn’t, but it does. While I can think of a handful of other games where this has been the case (Tomb Raider, for example), the fact that even now, in 2017, this still feels important is indicative of a much broader issue within the gaming world. Having a female protagonist is still seen as a risk, and as a result, it’s not often done.

This shouldn’t still be a risk. Women make up at least half (according to some numbers, more than half even) of the gaming demographic, and we’ve been playing as and relating to set male characters for years, so I really don’t see why having male players play as and relate to a set female main character should be a risk for the industry. And that’s a problem that goes well beyond gaming and into plenty of other media – starting with children’s books even… But that’s a matter for another post. That I’ll probably never get to.

So anyway…

It’s not just the fact that Aloy is a girl that makes it feel important. It’s the fact that Aloy is female, and yet in the context of the story that doesn’t matter. Her gender is completely irrelevant, and is left as such. Her character design is practical, as are her outfits, and we are not constantly reminded of the fact that “oh shit, Aloy has ladyparts,” whether that be through a sexualized character design (*coughLaraCroftupuntilRiseoftheTombRaidercough*) or constant reminders that she’s filling a role that’s not typically female (e.g. comments from NPCs in surprise over her gender, or deriding her gender). As a gamer who also has lady parts and identifies as female, it’s kind of an awesome experience, to be honest. It’s revolutionary because of the simple fact that it doesn’t present the decision to have a female player character as different or revolutionary. It just simply is. And that fact alone is striking me as unique, and – if I haven’t said it enough yet – important.

Because it’s something even the best, most inclusive games sometimes miss the mark on when writing strong female characters. Even my beloved Bioware occasionally misses the mark in their super-progressive Dragon Age series. Despite culturally existing in a world that has seemingly eliminated most gender norms (and in the places they’ve been kept, they’ve often been flipped – for example the “church” of the world is matriarchal instead of patriarchal) while playing as a female Warden, Hawke, or Inquisitor there are still these moments that crop up where your character’s competence and fitness to lead are questioned on nothing but the basis of being female – bits of dialogue and implications in the way things are voiced that play out very differently when playing as the male counterpart. They’re moments that can feel very out of place in a world as egalitarian with regards to gender as Dragon Age seems to set itself up to be – moments that sometimes feel to me like reality is bleeding in and upsetting the world-building a little.

horizon-zero-dawn-screen-31-ps4-eu-20oct16

In Horizon Zero Dawn, I haven’t yet had one of those moments. Not one. There were a couple moments where an NPC would flirt with Aloy a bit, but everything is written in such a way, and the world is set up in such a way that I’m confident that those moments still would have happened regardless of her gender – because that’s just normal human interaction. And somehow that makes the lack of super set gender roles even cooler?

And all of this is to say nothing about the seemingly effortless diversity of the NPC cast. Which also feels super-duper important to me. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever before encountered a game that is this nonchalantly racially diverse, and I freaking love it. And it really is the nonchalantness of it that gets me. It’s not mentioned, questioned, commented on, or fussed about… it just simply is. And oh my goodness, it’s so amazing.

I could easily go on for several more pages about the things in this game that feel important to me, but I think at this point I’ve gone on long enough for one post that’s basically just a rambling brain-dump. Additionally, I have not finished the game yet – I’m taking my sweet time and being a bit completionist, so I’m only about half way through. It might very well be that the impressions I’ve gotten so far don’t maintain themselves through the rest of the story, but I guess we’ll see. I just needed to gush a little over how awesome this game is.

Have you played Horizon Zero Dawn? Did you notice any of these things? Or do you see them differently than I did? Are there actually plenty of games out there like this already, but I’ve just managed to miss them because I’m picky about gameplay mechanics? Is there something big and glaring that I’m missing in my enthusiasm? (*Since originally writing this post, I’ve read several interesting commentaries by Native American authors on both sides of the “is it cultural appropriation?” debate, which I must admit is not something that would have even occurred to me had I not happened across it on Tumblr.) I still haven’t finished the game (so try to avoid spoilers), and am still formulating my thoughts. I feel like I’ve sort of danced around points here… like they’re on the tip of my tongue but I just can’t find the words to properly convey them – so I would love to hear how other people see it. Maybe it will help clarify this overwhelming bubble of nebulous “this is important” that’s bubbling up in my chest as I play (but please keep it respectful)!

(Clicking on the photos will bring you to their source)

Book Review: Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel

So I finally got around to starting Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy. Sure took me long enough. I’ve been pushed and prodded by so many people on these over the years, and after seeing them come up once again a few months ago after the publication of his latest book Clariel, I’ve finally gotten off my ass and started with Sabriel. Overall, I’ve enjoyed the ride thus far.

I must admit that at first it was a little slow going. It took me a little longer than usual to get the hang of the world – the Old Kingdom, the Wall, the Charter, charter symbols, charter magic vs. free magic… I felt like I couldn’t fully wrap my head around things properly until about halfway through the book. I’m not sure if it’s because the world building was actually a little slow, or if it’s because I started it immediately after I finished My Lady Jane, which was a VASTLY different kind of writing and tone. I’m inclined to blame it on the latter, since I quite literally closed My Lady Jane and opened Sabriel. I probably should have taken a day or two to get my head out of alternate Tudor England before I started.

So that might be my bad, but it also might not? I guess I won’t ever really be able to tell without going back and rereading after I get some distance from it.

But regardless, once I did get all the pieces in place world-wise, I sped through the rest of this book. Just lovely. Nix crafts a really exciting, suspenseful story that pulls you right to the end. But while the story kept me riveted from that point on, even as the action drove me forward I did find myself wishing for a little more in some parts (mild spoilers ahead). My small qualms are mostly in regards to character development… or, lack thereof (which, to be honest, would have been far less noticeable if I had actually read the book when I actually still fell in the “young adult” age demographic… but I’m a crotchety full-fledged adult now, so here we go).

Specifically, I will say that I very much wish Touchstone was developed just a little bit more as a character, and that the relationship between he and Sabriel was a little less… instantaneous? Miraculous? Basically, there’s not really much of a transition period for Sabriel to go from “Oh he’s pretty but, ugh, annoying.” to “this dude is now a fully developed individual, and I love him.” And while it was admittedly nice to read about a strong, young, female protagonist where a romance subplot doesn’t really end up becoming the focus – the lack of development there did make the overall relationship seem a little unnatural. The few romance or sex oriented scenes/asides that were there ended up feeling really quite out of place.

But, all that said, as jarring as the “romance” part of the book was, it was also such a small part that I’m not sure it really mattered too much in terms of shaping my overall review. That facet of the book took such a massive backseat to the rest of the plot that what would normally be an enjoyment-ruining character development problem for me wasn’t actually that bad.

My only other qualm – which is not so much with Sabriel itself, but rather with the trajectory of the trilogy – is that while her development is also a bit slow in the beginning (but that might also be a result of me struggling to grasp the world), I did grow very attached to Sabriel (the character) by the end. And because of that I also must admit to not being in a super big rush to start the sequel since it seems to both time jump and introduce a new main character. That said, I’ve ordered it and do intend to start it as soon as I’m finished working through the tome of a biography of HRH Elizabeth II that I’m currently reading. Because while I definitely want to read more about Sabriel, I hope I’ll like Lirael just as much.

In summary: Sabriel is a fun fantasy adventure through an interesting world that is definitely worth a read, even if it does let character building fall to the wayside in its relentless drive towards the final confrontation.

Overall rating: 3.75/5 stars

Would recommend to: Fans of fantasy.