Holiday Update

I was recently approached by a local paper to write articles for them.  Unfortunately due to declining ad revenues the addition I was supposed to post for didn’t see the light of day.  It did, however, get me in the urge to start writing a little.  The following are some of my musing on the holiday season.

As I sit back in my chair with my value-brand scotch (this economy.  Amiright?) my mind drifts to the season and what it means for me an my family.  This is a special time of year when right about December 12th I start to freak right the heck out trying to sort out all the Christmas gifts I could have just ordered online but procrastinated too long.  I am then forced to throw on a pair of pants and my festive holiday-stained t-shirt and venture forth unto The Mall.  The most holy of shrines in this consumer season.  I have my routine down pretty good.  I have a list.  And if I am lucky I have even brought it with me instead of leaving it on the counter at home.  With (maybe) list in hand I first have to put’er in 4 low and monster truck onto the glacier that was once a parking space.  After removing the crampons from the hike down the mountain I wade into The Mall.  Being stubby as I am gives me an advantage to facing the Christmas crowds.  My low centre of gravity allows me dig under and hip check my way past screaming child and frail elderly alike.  I give a quick salute to the mall Santa.  He is the true hero of the season.  Having that many children sit on an old dude’s lap without anyone getting arrested is really an amazing feat.  I deftly dodge from store to store, my arms weary with the load.  And at each stop I pull out my prayer card.  Not because it is a holy instrument but because I pray every time I swipe it that it still works.  It is amazing but as I make my way back to my truck I find that I have gained Samson-esq strength, carrying what appears to be three times my body weight in toys, booze and discount chocolates (this economy.  Amiright?).  After quickly apply my parking ticket (apparently I was parked in Sherpa only parking) to another person’s window (Merry Christmas!) I pull onto the highway and head for home.  As Mr. Buble reminds me for the 100th time this year that a fat dude in red is about to pull off an astounding amount of B & Es I let my mind drift to the more import parts of the season.  I know that you have been force fed tinsel and good cheer since the day after Halloween but try to remember it is important to celebrate the holidays.  Take any time off you have to really try to connect with your family.  This year I want to spend more time on the slopes telling Lucas to ‘make a damn pizza already!’, and Ben to ‘Stop whining, you are not hurt!’ and of course Tam ‘Yes dear’.  But really, I encourage everyone to connect with loved ones and really make this season one of love and joy.  Put things like job stress, relationship troubles and US president-elect on the back shelf.  Get out, enjoy the amazing beauty we have around us and let that fill your heart with the joy of the season.  And if that doesn’t work, there is always the budget scotch.  Have a Merry Christmas

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Mini Pita Pizzas

So I totally stole this from my brother-in-law.  He made them for us one evening and they are stellar.

Serves 4

4 8inch Whole Wheat Pitas

4 tbsp Pesto

8 tbsp Pizza Sauce

2 BBQed Chicken Breasts (diced)

1/2 Package Turkey Bacon

2 Cup Diced Spinach

1 Green Pepper (diced)

1/2 Medium Onion (diced)

2 Cups Mozzarella Cheese (Grated)

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Spoon a tbsp of pesto on each pita.  Spread evenly.  Spoon 2 tbsp pizza sauce on each pita.  Spread evenly.  Now top the pizza with a portion of the chicken, bacon, onion, peppers and spinach.  Finish it off with the cheese.  Bake the pizzas right on the rack for about 10 minutes.

Super simple and super tasty.  But wait!  You like pineapple on your pizza!?  Ok.  Put some on!  You can swap out whatever you want.  Just don’t over-top the pizzas or they won’t cook properly.  Also, because of the short cook time, pre-cook all meat and if you want softer veggies, pre-cook them a little as well.  Another neat tip is you can prep a lot of topping and have it a few times in a week.  Then all you have to do it top and cook.

Once again thank to Josh and Sonia for the great recipe.  Comment below with your own pizza topping ideas!

Bike to work year

As some of you know I ride my bike to work. I have been doing this for over a year now. I really enjoy it and it saves us a ton of money. Here are some of the pearls of wisdom I have learned over the year.
First off I will let you know my cycling style. I ride about 4k a day (2 to work and 2 back home). Second is I ride in almost all weather conditions. That is the type of riding I will be talking about commuter riding in all weather.
Let’s go over some of the gear you will need starting with your bike. Currently I am riding on a $50 walmart special and while it has served me well, you may want to invest a little if you are riding all the time. My bike is really starting to show wear and it just isn’t really meant to last. You also want to find a good all around bike. If you by a skinny tired road bike it will work great on dry, clean roads but as soon as you hit rain, gravel or snow (yes you can hit snow) you are in trouble. Also, a huge tired mountain bike is great for getting through the slick and loose stuff but you have to really work a lot harder to move those big soft tires up a hill. Also, you are really going to want a few gears. I really don’t see the need to have more than 15 (I typically only use about 5 of mine) but you need some. Those fancy classic cruiser bikes may look cool (I am taking to you, artsy hipsters!) but if they don’t have gears you will find yourself walking your bike. Go to your local bike shop and tell them what you are doing with your bike. They should be able to show you a few good commuter bikes that should let you ride almost every day. As for bike accessories I highly recommend some lights. I don’t ride much at night but during the winter I have had to be at work early. You really need both a headlight and a taillight to be seen. Some nice LED based lights work great and last a long time between battery changes. I, personally, am not a big fan of mud flaps. I find they get in the way more than they keep you dry but give them a shot if you like. I also don’t use a bag rack on my bike. I just use a backpack but if you have to haul a lot of gear to and from work you may want to invest in a bag rack and maybe some saddle bags. You want to have more space than you think you need. Buy a really long bike lock. A long lock works best in case you ever need to lock to a tree. I just use a bare metal chain and a pad lock. It works well. That pretty much covers it in the bike department. On to all weather clothing.
You have to be ready for all weather conditions. Let’s start from the bottom and work up. I use a simple running shoe for riding. It works well and is comfortable. I also have a change of shoes at my office because while running shoes go great with a bike they don’t go well with a tie. Also, your shoes may get wet so always have a spare pair. That goes for socks too. Throw a spare pair in a desk or a locker at work. In the summer, wear shorts when you bike. If you are wearing pants, you have to make sure they don’t get into your front sprocket (gears) or you will tear them and jam up your bike. Wear tight fitting pants (shudder), tuck your pants into your socks (shudder) or use a Velcro strap to keep them away. I know that all of these solutions aren’t the most fashionable but it is better than going through a pair of pants every week. In cold weather I also wear long johns. Your legs will get pretty chilly without them. As with most things, dress in layers on top. I wear just a t-shirt in the summer but in colder weather I either wear a hoodie or my winter jacket. Be sure if you are wearing heavy clothing you can unzip as you go. My ride to work is always way colder then my ride home. If you are really sensitive to cold weather you may want to wrap a scarf around your face or get a mask. You want to find a good pair of tight fitting glasses. Try not to get a pair that is tinted too dark. You need to wear them in many different weather conditions. Cold air, snow (yeah, snow, for real) and rain are really hard to see in without glasses but you don’t want them too dark or you won’t be able to see. Top thing off always with a helmet. This is very important and if you don’t wear one, you are just asking for a brain injury. I also have a thin toque. You don’t want anything too bulky because it makes it hard to get your helmet on over it so a nice thin toque is your best option. If it has rained, there is a good chance you will get a bit muddy riding in. If your workplace has a shower, use it. Don’t shower when you leave the house, just shower at work. Otherwise pack some pit stick and you change of clothes. Wash your face and arms at work and re-pit. You may also want to pack a sweat towel if you are up hill to work.
So now you have your bike and you are dressed, what is next. Well you are always going to want to pack a change of clothes or store a set at work. Weather can change quickly and because you don’t have a car to whip home quickly in, be prepared! Don’t forget a second set of footwear. Like I mentioned above your feet will eventually get wet. Depending on the length of your trip you may want to pack some water with you. One thing I recommend leaving at home is your MP3 player. If you are riding a bike trail it might not be an issue but if you are riding on the roads you really want to be able to hear what is going on around you. I use my ears a lot when riding on the streets. People don’t generally pay attention to cyclists so you always have to be responsible for your own safety.
Weather is your biggest challenge when riding. There are a few things to be aware of. When the roads are wet be sure to slow down a bit. It is amazing how a little water affects your traction. You can also ride in sub-zero temperatures but be very aware of ice. If you hit ice on two wheels you will go down, fast. I have ridden to work when it is snowing but if there is more than a skiff on the ground you may want to walk to work. Also, be aware that after a snow, the plows rarely go near the bike lanes so you have to keep an extra eye on the vehicles around you. When ride a bike you save a ton on vehicle costs. Start a cab fare jar where you put in $10 a month. That should give you more than enough for those rare times you need to call a cab. Also, learn the bus schedule. Many times in bad weather you can use the bus to get to work. Cheaper than a cab and in this city they are never crowded. When riding in town, share the road goes both ways. Drivers are supposed to share the road with you but you also don’t own it on a bike. Get over when you can and let drivers pass you safely. You are a slow moving vehicle so yield the road when possible. Also, unless you make direct eye contact, assume drivers don’t see you. Make sure you error on the side of caution. You saying you had the right of way doesn’t do you much good when you are in traction.
So that is my biking run down. The last thing I want to say is that ANYONE who is able to walk, can ride to work. You may almost die the first week. You will wheeze. You will sweat. But if you try it out for one week, it will become bearable. After 2 or 3 weeks you may even enjoy it. I am a perfect example. I am over weight (obese by Wii standards!) and I basically get no other real physical activity, and I can do this. By riding to work, I save us $300 a month car payment, $25 a week in gas, $100 a month insurance, $20 a month maintenance. Bike tires cost pennies to repair and I can do it myself. I am also almost carbon neutral (I breathe pretty heavy). So if you are trying to save money, get fit, be green or just because I dare you to, get out and ride. There really isn’t an excuse. Please post comments or questions below. I am sure there are things I missed but I am happy to answer questions.

A few things to mention

It has been quite some time since I last posted and this post will be a bit of a mixed bag.  I can tell by the piles of emails and comments that my throng of devoted readers has missed my postings but fear not, I will try to do a little more.

First off a quick D&D update.  Our heroes defeated the Sharn, snagged another one of the legendary weapons and headed back to the university.  Once there they got word that the Bard’s home town was under siege by the undead (yes, them again!) so they traveled to the Dalelands.  After training up some recruits, the town was again besieged by the walking aberrations.  The heroes classed in the streets and drove back the dark forces.  We leave them preparing retaliation.

I am taking a break from my D&D posts because our group is taking a break from my campaign.  One of the other fellows wants to try his hand at DMing and I really don’t mind just sitting back and playing for a while.  I may do something either here or on another site to review the goings on of his adventures.  I might do something interesting and write it like a journal of my character.  Anyway just some ideas.

Back to the real world.  I really haven’t done much new stuff in the way of cooking.  That is to say I haven’t done any of my own stuff.  I have been trying a few things but they have been from recipes so I don’t feel I can take any real credit for them.  I will, however, shout out to this recipe for butter chicken.

http://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipes/Main/Chicken/recipe.html?dishid=8423

It was really neat to cook because the flavour really doesn’t come together until the end.  It turned out super tasty.

The other really quick recipe I want to share is something Tam has started drinking.  Just take a can of club soda and add a lemon wedge and a lime wedge.  It is very low calorie and extremely refreshing.  Also, if you add a shot of vodka it becomes a great little summer drink.  It is so much better for you then Sprite.

The last think I want to touch on is I am getting really into photography.  Tam got a Canon EOS Rebel T1i for Christmas.  I did most of the research on the camera before we got it so in my learning I got very interested in the whole process.  So I am starting this new hobby and I will be making posts about it.  You can catch some of my updates on Facebook and Twitter as well as my Flickr account.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nimrod108/

I am really open to any feedback as I am really just starting out.  I hope to improve and slowly upgrade my gear.  I will also post stuff shot by Tam as she has a great eye for things.

Thanks again to my loyal readers.  I guess this is happy new year!

And behind door number …

After the heroes rested up they opened up the next door. They found themselves in a gothic hall lined by the undead. After blasting through the entry hall they were greeted by a rotting wizard who offered them a eternity in his servitude. Not liking the sound of that or the smell the rushed forward, smashing through two
abominations and took the wizard’s head off. Finding a key they appeared back in the mansion. The seal on the large door below growing weaker with each key. The next door found the heroes back in the heat of things, literally. They found themselves next to the magma cracks in a volcano. The living magma tried to get them steamed but the heroes manages to keep their cool and defeat the hot blobs. The jumped quickly onto a rock island and were blasted to the upper levels of the volcano where they met the more solid rock elementals. They delivered a crushing defeat to these dusty devils and found another key. They once again appeared in the mansion. The seal is down to one thread. After another rest (lazy heroes) they opened the last door. Now the heroes found themselves on a boat (don’t you ever forget!). After bouncing along the waves with Hesikiah at the helm, the boat was attacked by a group of Kuo-Toa. After trying to swim in plate armor, Varis used some of his developing Sorcerer powers to fly back onto the boat. After frying the frog-people the weather began to darken and the Bard spotted a large, squid-like creature not far away. The Kraken attacked the boat, flinging the heroes into each other and trying to drown the rest. The Bard leapt from his perch in the crow’s nest only to take the mast on his head as the Kraken smashed it to the deck. The warlord was finally able to smash the creature in the eye and the Bard finished it with an arrow through its brain. As the creature began to sink back to Davie Jones’ Locker it spat up a key (with a bunch of half digested fish). After touching the key, the heroes return to the mansion. The door below is now unsealed and a swirling vortex greets the heroes. They rush into it to prevent anything from coming out.
Inside they were greeted by a horrible creature. The Sharn consumes you and then bends your consciousness to its will. The area consisted of rock platforms floating about a maelstrom of madness. Hesikiah managed to control the rocks through sheer force of his will. The Sharn seemed to be able to act in three directions at once. Didymous managed to lure the creature close to his blade using the party’s battle standard but the Sharn threw it into the abyss. After a long and painful battle the Sharn was subdued by the Bards arrows. Without the Sharn holding the rift open, it collapsed sending the creatures within it back to their own plains.
The heroes found themselves back in the mansion. They found the wizard Benjamin with them but his life force had been almost completely consumed by the Sharn. Noticing the box the heroes brought with them he managed to say the word ‘Keys’ before passing away. Hesikiah was helpless to invoke a life force that wasn’t there. What does the box hold? Where do our heroes go next? Stay tuned!

Freebird

After our heroes rested up from their brief trip to hell, they opened the next door. While they were glad to once again have the help of Carlo the Avenger, they had to leave the bard behind to mend a particularly nasty wound. Also, the Warlord Didymous got somehow stuck in the portal and didn’t appear until near the end of the fight. They found themselves high in the sky and confronting creatures made entirely out of solid atmosphere. They also found that there were invisible holes in their invisible platform. The wind-creatures blasted the heroes around the sky causing them to nearly fall to their doom a number of times. The monk was almost lost if not for the quick thinking Paladin. After they vanquished the air-men, they met their leader. The sky grew grey and large platforms made of solid cloud started to swirl around a great air elemental bound in chains. He caused lighting to slam into the heroes but their attacks did nothing to him. They started to break away the chains. After destroying the first chain, the air-elemental used his free arm to smash the party. The party then weakened the remaining chains and broke them all nearly simultaneously. The elemental briefly reared towards the party but was quickly torn apart by his tempestuous nature. The chains that imprisoned him also kept him alive in our world. As the monster was torn apart, a key was flung into the air. The monk jumped up for it and the world of air disappeared. The heroes found themselves again in the house and this time when they opened the door they found a small library. With their Bard healed up and another key in their pocket the move on towards the third door…

The story so far..

The last room in this twisted reality was a long, dark room. As soon as the heroes each stood on a glowing rune, the wall behind them opened and a wave a fire started to rush towards them. Kane, attempting to scamper over the walls, tripped and was consumed by the fire (reappeared back at the central platform with the fear of being roasted alive still assaulting his brain). Varis was the next to fall, unable to keep up in his heavy armor (he too awakens on the platform writhing in remembered agony). Hesikiah fell victim to the flames as he finds himself against a dead-end wall (the comforting warmth he normally feels turns to teeth as he awakes on the platform still yelling at the biting flames). With his powerful legs thundering under him, the Warlord Didymous leaps forward, slapping the silvery symbol and with a white flash the licking flames are gone and he is with his friends back at the central platform.
The party is reunited and the silvery compass is complete. It begins to lift out of the groves on the stone floor and spin slowly in the air. In a flash of white light, a woman in a white robe appears on it. She calls herself the librarian and thanks the heroes for saving her. With a wave of her hand, the party and all the others trapped in Vecna’s sick prison find themselves back in the university. The librarian explains that she is the book they had. Instead of writing them down, he stored many of his secrets with her. She is not entirely sure what is true and what isn’t but she will share what she has. She tells them the tale of the 5 Warriors of light who last banished Vecna from the mortal world. They never succeeded in killing the maimed god but did send him and his undead minions reeling for many years. They used 5 sacred artifacts know as the The
Lightbringer’s Regalia. Her head is a little fuzzy after escaping her prison but she does remember where two of the artifacts we last noted to be. One is in the possession of a corrupt art dealer in the town of Haven’s Rest. The other was in the possession of a powerful wizard who lives near the town of Low Water.
The heroes decide to press forward on this quest and head back to Fallcrest the head east past Hammerfall to the dirty mountain town of Haven’s Rest. They discover that the art collector has used his wealth to bully his way into controlling the town. It has become a den of stinking evil where thieves and smugglers come to fence their goods. The collector’s false store fronts by almost anything of even minor value for a fraction of their worth and then try to sell the goods through apparently legit in larger towns like Hammerfast and Fallcrest. The heroes try to be coy and blend in but their inquiries about The Lighbringer’s Regalia alert the dealer to their presence. After some brief negations break down at the dealer’s front door, the heroes storm the keep. They battle their way through heired thugs, half starved trolls and even rust monsters to face the collector. He turns out to be a lazy, green dragon. Briefly the heroes consider trying to parley with the dragon , but their last draconian contract didn’t end well. After defeating the winged pretender, the heroes discovered the part of the Lightbringer’s Regalia, the Plate of the Bright Champion. Varis donned this silver/white armor and knew that the denizens of the underworld would find his skin even tougher. After freeing the people from their corrupt dictator, a relative of the long dead lord and a band of freedom fighters begin to take back their town and restore it back to a peaceful mining community. After briefly checking in on their bar in Fellcrest, the heroes return to the university. The Librarian has still not fully recovered from her ordeal inside the book so the heroes decide to press on to Low Water. Before they go, they are met by a Halfling from the Daleland’s in the north. His was a Bard who took up the bow after his family was almost completely wiped out by a plague spread by the walking dead. He has spent the last year looking for the source. He tracked the heroes down and discovered their quest might help him in the search. He asked if he could join them and they welcomed the extra help. Kane decided that it might be best if he stay at the university to aid the Librarian in research once she starts to feel better. So with their new Halfing ranger/bard, the party set out to Low Water in search of another artifact.
The party was aided through the Feywild to a different gate about a day’s travel through the woods. The gate itself appeared to be merely a tree bent into an arch but the skilled elves touched the tree and spoke a few words and the air shimmered revealing a different (less magical) forest beyond. The party was given a wooden whistle and told to play three notes at the gates when they wished to return. The whistle would open the gate for a short time and alert the nearby guide-post of their presence. Thanking the elves they made their way through the gate and down the north side of a valley to a sprawling town below. Low Water is larger than Fellcrest and is a major shipping port. It sits on a major river that flows all the way out to the coastal cities. They supply grain and ship much of the ore and minerals from the Dwafforged Mountains. In return they receive fish and goods that can only come from exotic lands beyond the sea. The heroes start their search for the wizard in a small crammed magic shop run by a old, bent Gnome. He thinks the heroes are looking for a wizard named Benjamin the Grey. He doesn’t know much about him only that he used to come to his shop nearly every week but hasn’t been here for 10 or 15 years. He advised the heroes that they may inquire at the other shop in the west part of town (if they can suffer that arrogant Eladrin who runs that place). They heroes inquire at the other shop and after a lecture of dealing with dirty Gnomes, the graceful Eladrin gives them a rough sketch of a map and asks if they wouldn’t mind dropping off this chest that was delivered here 10 years ago. His men had tried to deliver it but met a few magic wards and after escaping with a few scorched cloaks they decided it is best to just wait until he picks it up. It is large chest that is magically sealed. The heroes pick up a mule and cart to haul the chest with them and within about a day’s journey they find themselves looking at a large house that looks like it hasn’t been touched in 15 years. The outside is caked with dirt and covered in ivy. After the warlord bursts down the front door, they find themselves in a grand foyer. Two staircases ascend either side of the room to a balcony. A double door is straight ahead of them. It is sealed with some very strong magic barrier. Glowing lights of purple, green, red, yellow and blue dance under the door jam. Some unseen force is locked behind and it is doing… something. The bard and the cleric inspect the magic and notice that it is tied to the 5 doors in the upper room. The climb the stairs and enter the first room. As soon as they touch they handle they find themselves on a mote of rock floating above a lake of fire. The ski above them seems to be on fire as well. They appear to be in some form of hell. They are greeting by lighting throwing and confounding demons that draw power from runes scattered on the rock. The heroes quickly find out they can also tap into the runes and use this knowledge to quickly turn the tides of battle. On an adjacent mote, they hear cries of battle and see a half-orc monk battling two of the largest demons any of them have ever seen. Rushing to his aid, the heroes overcome the massive abominations. They find a key on one of the slain demons and when they touch it they all appear at the door. This time when they open it they find a simple bedroom. Hesikiah notices that the barrier seems to have weakened just a little… What is the key used for and who is the monk? Stay tuned to find out more.