Kathy's All-Purpose Blog

I guess some people have different blogs for different subjects, but this is it for me, baby. One blog to bring them all, or something.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Weight Thing

For most of my life, I've been what is politely called "heavy." There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main one is that eating--or rather, overeating--has always been my primary coping mechanism and emotional outlet. I eat when I'm stressed, or bored, or upset. When I'm happy I eat to celebrate and when I'm sick I eat for comfort.

I had done little to try to change any of this (and the stuff that I did try is a whole other subject for a whole other Blog entry), but for the most part I really wasn't interested in change. I figured my overeating didn't hurt anybody (except me), and that trying to change it would not succeed and would only make me unhappy (see my previous post about why I'd find that unacceptable).

Then last year, I don't know, something changed. I decided I was tired of it. I was tired of being heavy, and all the inconveniences that go along with it. I was tired of living the way I was living, and ready to change. I can't put my finger on why, or how, or what all went into the decision; I just know I was done living the way I'd been living.

Being a net geek, I first turned to the Web for help, and visited Weight Watchers. I read over their plan, and thought it might be worth a try. They have a web-based version, where I track all of my information on line and don't have to go to meetings. I like that, for reasons that have to do with past attempts to solve the whole weight issue. I am committed to this course of action, but I don't want to spend a lot of time talking about it.

For that same reason, I didn't tell any of my friends or family what I was doing. I guess maybe part of it was fear of failure--it would be so much easier to screw up privately than publicly. Most of it, though, was a sincere desire to go on with my life, which for the most part I like very much. "I don't want my whole life to be about this," is my continual mantra (and "this," of course, means weight loss). I've had experience with people who can't talk about, or think about, or do, anything that isn't related to their diet/health/exerciese/weight program, and Dear Lord, they're boring. I don't want to be one of those people.

I also want to avoid the Food Police, which are the well-meaning friends and relatives who try to "help" you by being royal pains in the you-know-what. I am an adult, and I want to make my own decisions, even if those decisions are bad ones. My friends are pretty cool people, and I knew most of them wouldn't be a problem, but the problem with the Food Police is they're not always readily apparent. You never can tell when a previously cool person will, upon hearing that you're trying to lose weight, morph into some kind of hideous Nag Monster who won't leave you alone.

And, of course, I didn't want to become the Food Police myself. It's very important to me that nobody else should have to change the decisions they get to make as adults just because I have self-control problems. If "I don't want my life to be about this," then I sure as heck don't want to force everybody else's lives to be about this either. That would be obnoxious.

So, for all of those reasons, I haven't really come out and told anybody. "Hey, I'm doing Weight Watchers." Until now. Mind you, having lost humty-hum pounds since last May, I'm pretty sure that particular cat is out of the bag. And I have to say, all my friends have been very cool and non-officious so far, which is why I feel semi-confident coming right out and saying it here.

I just hope the Food Police stay home.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Thing That Ate My Brain

For Christmas, my friend Dave (not to be confused with my deceased brother Dave), and his husband, gave me a computer game. It was "Sim City 4," to be precise.

Being a long-time fan of Sim City, I was delighted, and eagerly installed it on my computer. My computer met all the listed system requirements, so it was very disappointing when the program wouldn't run properly. It was just too much for my poor little machine, and the game slowed way, way down to the point where it was unplayable.

I gave the disk to Dave, who has a faster computer, thinking somebody ought to get some use out of this thing. I was pleased and surprised when, earlier this week, Dave gave me a "replacement present" game, which he thought would work better on my system.

"Tropico" does indeed work just fine on my computer, which explains where I've been the last few days. :) Yes, I have been learning how to be "El Presidente" of my own Caribbean island. It's a fun game, and I predict that it will eat quite a bit more of my time over the next week or so. But hey, that's what computer games are for, right?

Anyway, that's where I've been. Now, if you'll excuse me, I hear the islands calling....

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Let Me Tell You About My Character: Rina

In my first "Let Me Tell You About My Character" post, I mentioned (or at least hinted) that I tend to play paladins a lot. It's true, I like paladins. And I also feel that there are certain segments of the gamer community that misunderstand paladins--and because of this, think the class is not worth playing. My character Rina was an attempt to shatter some of those myths.

But before I get into specifics, here is a Paladin Primer for those of you not into gaming. In D&D, paladins are holy warriors, pledged to uphold Good and Honor. They are sworn to abide by a Code of Conduct, and they must be Lawful Good in alignment (alignment is D&D shorthand for a charcter's code of ethics). In short, their behavior and their options are the most limited of any D&D class.

Because of this, a lot of gamers tend to run down the poor paladin as a class. They sneer at the concept of playing a "Dudley Do-Right" who can't steal the jewel-covered idol from the evil cult. They refer to the paladin's alignment as "Lawful Stupid," and gleefully come up with scenarios to bedevil and torment the poor sucker.

But, you know, in reading the rules, I found no requirement that paladins be stupid--or easily duped. I also found no requirement that they be tedious sticks-in-the-mud with no sense of humor and no interest in anything outside of paladin-ing. I have kind of made it my mission to create paladins who don't conform to the normal mold, and who challenge people's assumptions about who and what paladins are.

I don't know quite how I came up with the idea, but there was a point where I realized that Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the TV character, is in many ways a paladin. She fights on the side of Good, and she has a set of rules she has to play by (although she's not always good at following them). Yet at the same time, Buffy is a girly-girl who's interested in clothes, and boys, and all kinds of pop-culture things. I started to think that a Buffy-like paladin might be fun.

I needed a character for the Living Kingdoms of Kalamar campaign, and I decided that my perky, girly, Buffy-like paladin would be a good fit. I've been playing LKoK for almost two years now, and Rina seems to be a hit. I think I've managed to confound more judges with this character than with any of my other characters in other campaigns. Rina completely derailed one module, and startled a judge in another when she marched up to an enemy archer and snatched the bow out of his hand (with a huffy "Ghaa, rude much?"). (The archer was clearly insane, you see, and probably wasn't aware he was hurting people. At least, that was Rina's take.)

Of course, as I've played her, her personality has diverged from the Buffy archetype a bit, but that was to be expected. Rina is actually perkier than Buffy, if that's possible, and a bit better at following the rules. And, due to the strictures of playing in a Living Campaign, she doesn't spend as much time buying clothes or chasing boys as I'd really like. She's a great character, though, and wonderful retort to those numbskulls who think paladins are all about being "Lawful Stupid."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Soapbox: Fun and Happiness

Back in the 1980s, when the Cold War was still big news, Phil Donahue and Vladimir Pozner hosted a series of discussions between audiences of ordinary citizens from the US and the USSR. I still remember one of the questions a member of the Soviet audience asked the Americans: What do you want for your children?

I remember it not so much for the question, but for the answers--or rather one answer that I felt was conspicuous in its absence. The American parents said they wanted their kids to do well, to get an education, to succeed, etc. At no time did any of the parents say they wanted their kids to be happy.

Maybe they thought it went without saying; I don't know. But given that happiness seems to be in such short supply, I don't actually think it does go without saying. I remember being surprised and a bit bothered by what I saw as a glaring omission.

Years later, I was working for Wizards of the Coast, who had just released this brand-new game called Magic: the Gathering. I was with a group of people manning a booth at the massive ABA tradeshow in LA, and we had some cards out on display, hoping to persuade bookstores to begin carrying the game.

One woman stopped by the booth and asked about the cards. Were they Tarot cards? No, I explained, it was a game, and each card did something different. She asked if they were for predicting things. I replied that, no, they were for a game you could play. She still looked confused.

"But--what's it for?"

I honestly don't remember how I replied, but I do remember what I wanted to reply. It's a game. It's fun. You remember fun? That thing you used to have? I felt so sorry for that lady, for whom games and fun were literally a foreign concept.

Some years later, a friend of mine was taking one of those "organize your life" classes, and one of the first things the participants were asked to do was come up with a "personal mission statement." I wasn't taking the class, but I gave it some thought and realized that I do have a personal misison statement. Or maybe "philosophy" is more apt. Anyway, here it is:

Life should be fun.

That's it--that's my guiding star. I know it sounds selfish and irresponsible, but really it isn't. Because when I say "fun," I mean a very specific kind of fun. I don't further define it in my little mini-mission statement, because it's for me and I know what I mean by it. But here are some clarifications.

Leting other people down isn't fun, so I do what I say I'm going to do and show up to places on time. Paying bills isn't especially fun, but not paying bills is even less fun, so I do it. Housework isn't fun, so I pay somebody else to clean my house. Work is fun--at least, mine is. If yours isn't, maybe it's time for a career change. Helping other people is fun. Playing games is fun. Disneyland is major-mega fun.

Sometimes not-fun things are a necessity (like paying bills), but honestly, I think that too many people burden themselves with too many things that aren't fun. They think "oh, this is good for me," ignoring the very simple truth that something that makes you unhappy is fundamentally bad for you.

We don't place a high enough value in this society on fun and happiness--which, incidentally, interferes with my mission statement. So, shape up, willya? (See that was a joke. Sort of. Because even self-improvement should be fun.)

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Recipe: Southern-Style Cornbread

On Friday nights, I play Shadowrun (it always comes back to gaming, doesn't it?). Anyway, on Friday nights I play Shadowrun with a group of people that includes two guys who were raised in the South. One night we somehow got on the subject of how northern-style cornbread is different from southern-style. Yankees make sweet cornbread, adding sugar or honey, but in the south, cornbread is not sweetened. These guys liked northern-style cornbread well enough, but both of them admitted to missing the unsweetened southern kind.

"I'll be my farm cookbook has a recipe for southern-style cornbread," I thought at the time, and a few days later I checked. Sure enough, there it was, so I planned to make some as a special treat the next time we met at my place.

As it turned out, though, the only kind of white cornmeal I could find was self-rising. It turned out not to be a problem, since the original recipe called for baking soda and salt. All I had to do was eliminate them. The cornbread came out very well, and was pronounced a tremendous success. And I was surprised at how much I liked it. I have quite a sweet tooth, and always assumed I'd end up preferring the northen style, but now I find myself with a decided preference for the unsweetened version from the south.

Anyway, here is the recipe.

Southern-Style Cornbread
(adapted from the Farm Journal's Country Cookbook, copyright 1959, 1972)

2 eggs
2 c. buttermilk
2 c. self-rising white cornmeal

Preheat oven to 450. Grease a square baking pan. Beat eggs, add buttermilk. Beat in cornmeal. Pour into prepared pan and bake at 450 for 20 to 25 minutes. Cut into squares and serve hot.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Let Me Tell You About My Character: Grace

A good rule to follow among roleplaying gamers is this: whenever somebody starts a converstaion "Let me tell you about my character"--run. Abandon possessions, money, and family members. Flee immediately, or face the mind-numbing horror to come.

That's most gamers, who tend to prose on and on about the stuff their character has and the adventures their character has been on and other things you can't possibly be interested in. I'm going to try to be the exception to that rule, by talking about the origins and inspirations of a character who's been pretty successful in a couple of different games. And by "successful," I don't mean that she's killed a lot of things and garnered a lot of "kewl" gear; I mean she is an interesting character, and players and gamemasters seem to like having her in their games. And if it turns out to be boring...well, I did warn you.

I mentioned in an earlier post that it was my brother who first got me into gaming. My brother and I had different opinions, though, about what made for a really cool character. He kept trying to get me to play a dwarf fighter, feeling (as many did, I'm sure) that dwarf fighters were just the last word in ultimate.

I, however, was a girly-girl in many ways, and my idea of the perfect character had nothing to do with the (then) D&D ideal. My perfect character would be a beautiful young girl who was so sweet and nice that everybody wanted to help her, and she would ride a horse and wear long dresses and all the boys would want to marry her.

There was no room for such a character in D&D at the time.

I learned to cope with it. I played paladins, and clerics, and paladins, and wizards, and more paladins. I enjoyed myself, and gradually learned to put the "girly-girl" part of myself away in a little box whenever I had to game. For a number of reasons, I had a long haitus from roleplaying in the 90s, and only came back into it in 2000, when Wizards of the Coast released the 3rd edition of D&D.

To re-familiarize myself with the game, and to learn the new rules (and because, let's face it, it's fun), I began to create characters--just to see what I could do with this new system. I was delighted to find it so much more flexible. I approached the character-creation exercise from a number of angles, and finally hit upon the idea of asking myself how I would respond to the 17-year-old me. What would I tell somebody who wanted to make what I was now calling the Pretty Pretty Princess character?

To my utter delight, I realized it was now possible. The newly-redesigned Bard class put an emphasis on a high Charisma score, and on an ability to delight an audience. Moreover, the Bard is meant to be a "jack-of-all-trades," somebody who has some abilities in just about every aspect of the game. I quickly formed the idea of a wealthy young woman with indulgent parents, someone who had been allowed to study anything she wanted, but who had unfortunately lacked the discipline to learn to do anything really well.

I wasn't 17 anymore, though, and I knew this character couldn't just flounce through the make-believe world in her long dress and expect everybody to fall neatly into line. She had the potential to be incredibly obnoxious if I didn't give her a playable personality, so I gradually began to build one.

She would be well aware of her faults, I decided, and would laugh about them. She'd be charmingly self-depricating, and make jokes about what a useless creature she was. Once I realized I was drawing on Jane Austen's Emma for inspiration, the whole personality-building process went much more quickly.

When I was done, I had a workable character who would mesh pretty well into most adventuring groups. I've played versions of Grace in a couple of different games now, and I've found that players and GMs like having her at the table. She's a memorable and highly unusual fantasy game character, and I've had a lot of fun playing her.

Because you see, all these years, later, I've still got the girly-girl streak. I did opt for the pink Blog, after all. And I still get a kick out of playing Grace, who is the most beautifulest girl around and rides a horse and wears long dresses and all the boys want to marry her.