Reading improves writing, just ask Mr. King.

Before I took my blog hiatus I had a lot of issues actually finishing books. I would start one, get part way through, run low on time, set it aside, and repeat. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the books — I just never felt like I had the time to devote to reading one. But after I started my blogging hiatus, and before I started NaNoWriMo, I finished four books. FOUR. I was really proud of myself, and it felt good. And even through NaNo, I made sure to keep reading. Partly because of one of the books I read: “On Writing” by Stephen King.

Mr. King pointed out that people can’t be good writers without reading, and that every time you read, you were studying the craft of writing. After reading that, something clicked. I figured if I couldn’t make time for reading, my writing wouldn’t ever improve. (Remember, I was trying to write my novel at this point.) Since then, I’ve made a point to make time to read nearly every day. And I want to continue, so I decided to integrate my reading into the blog, instead of adding something extra to my to-do list. So every month, I’ll go through and comment on all the books I read and listened to. (I listen to audio books at work a lot to pass the time… it’s great!)

So without further ado, here are the books I finished in January.

The bookstore had just gotten it in when I asked for it — they hadn’t even put it on the shelves yet!

“The Shining” by Stephen King. I got “Doctor Sleep” for Christmas, so I decided I needed to actually read “The Shining” before reading its sequel. And I’m very glad I did. I’ve only seen the movie once, and even though it was enjoyable it wasn’t as scary or memorable as I expected, given the cult following the movie seems to have. Since reading “On Writing”, I’ve been on a Stephen King kick, so I was excited to read one of his most famous works. And it didn’t disappoint. It was significantly different from the movie in several ways. The biggest and most important were the differences in Jack, Danny and Wendy Torrance. The characters are much deeper and more developed, and King makes sure the reader understands exactly why the human characters make their decisions. And in the book I would also count the hotel as a character itself. The ghosts and creepy phenomenons are clearly controlled by the hotel, which is a much more sinister character in the book, and not just a creepy setting. But to be clear, I’m not saying the movie was a bad adaptation. It is not. But there is so much depth to the book, it would be almost impossible to have translate it to the screen. King’s detail is incredible, his writing is easy to follow, and the plot it ingenious. I found myself understanding and feeling sorry for the Torrences more so than I did watching the movie. And I also found myself getting more spooked than I did while watching the movie. Overall, “The Shining” was riveting, entertaining and very enjoyable. (Also, for those who have seen the movie: it even ends differently! And Wendy is supposed to be a hot blonde…)

I didn’t see the face at first…

“Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King. I started “Doctor Sleep” almost immediately after finishing “The Shining” and finished it in less than a week. I read it every spare moment I had, and stayed up much later than I should have multiple times. So you know I thought it was good. “The Shining” touched on little Danny Torrence’s ability to see ghosts, know what his parents were thinking, and other crazy things. But they weren’t really the focus of the book. They were important, yes, but not as important as they are in “Doctor Sleep”, where the powers are actually the center of the novel. I also particularly enjoyed that “Doctor Sleep” tied up some loose ends left by its prequel (what happened to Danny and his mom?), and showed the effects of Danny’s childhood had on his life. On some levels, it’s easy to tell the two books were written years and years apart, but I think it added to the story. King isn’t the same author he was when he wrote “The Shining”, and it adds to the story. After all, Danny isn’t the same boy he was. Both lived many years in between the novels. But anyways, as a story “Doctor Sleep” is very different than “The Shining”, and I think I liked it more. It was dramatic, entertaining and scary, but not because of ghosts. Instead, King created new human-like monsters who murder little children. Scary, but not in the same way the Overlook Hotel was. A more real scary, in my opinion. I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to spoil it, but the little girl Danny helps, Abra, is spunky and likeable… even if she’s a little intense at times. And she’s even more powerful than Danny was as a kid, which is pretty incredible. Overall it was a quick read, fun and very good.

A very long audio book…

“A Clash of Kings” by George R. R. Martin. I started listening to the audiobook version on Audible back in… November? I don’t remember when I started, but I finally finished it in January. I had tried to read it on multiple occassions, but I would always end up setting it aside for something else… or nothing else. I just couldn’t get through it. Probably because I’m completely caught up with HBO’s “A Game of Thrones”, so I knew mostly what happened in the book. And I’m not really a huge fan of George R. R. Martin’s writing style. But the audiobook turned out to be manageable, and a good way to pass time at work. Unfortunately, I still got bored listening to it, which is why it took me so long to finish. I’d often choose to listen to MTG podcasts and streams instead. I finished it, though, and so far the next one is far more entertaining. Not that I didn’t like the story in “A Clash of Kings” … I really enjoy HBO’s adaptation, and think that, for the most part, it’s a good story. I just also think it was longer than it really needed to be, and that Martin adds a lot of things I really don’t care about. Who knows, though, maybe they’re important later. But right now I think all of his books are much longer than they really need to be.

So that’s it. Those are the books I finished in January. Only three, but that’s definitely better than September, when I think I barely finished one. I’m obviously on a Stephen King kick at the moment (I’m currently reading “The Green Mile”), but it’s only cause he’s great.

What did you read this month? Any suggestions for February?

All for now,


A healthier life.

There are a bunch of stereotypes when it comes to nerds, and they’re not all positive. We’re some of the nicest, coolest people you could ever meet, but unfortunately that’s not necessarily what people first think of when someone is described as a ‘gamer’. What often comes to mind is an overweight man, sitting in front of a game console or computer, with a bunch of soda and junk food surrounding him as he takes on the next level. And the stereotype isn’t that much different for MTG players or for girls, either.

I don’t like this. But stereotypes exist for a reason, and because a lot of nerdy hobbies are sedentary in nature it makes sense that we may not be as active or healthy as the athletes of the world. That doesn’t mean we can’t be, though; obesity is almost entirely preventable. In a wonderful article, “The Health of Magic”, level three judge Riki Hyayshi addressed this issue. Obesity is a huge issue in today’s society (according to the World Health Organization 35% of adults aged 20 and over were overweight in 2008, and 11% were obese, and being obese or overweight kills more people than being underweight), but it’s a difficult topic to breach with people, and an even harder one to fix.

In his article, Hyayshi points out that MTG is very sedentary in nature. Players spend hours sitting around play testing for tournaments, playing in tournaments, reading articles, playing MTGO or watching streams, etc. And the same can be said for people who love video games, reading, playing board games and a myriad of other nerdy activities. Despite being invigorating for the mind, they’re often very lazy for our bodies. Plus, let’s face it: reading the end of a good book is way more fun than going to the gym. I’m definitely guilty of prioritizing the former above the latter. And it’s not just our hobbies that are influencing our health. I have a full-time job where I have to sit in front of a computer screen all day. Definitely sedentary. So there goes 40 hours of my week devoted to sitting around. What happens to the rest of the time? Well, I try to write every day… that’s sedentary. I go to FNM every week… that’s pretty sedentary. And I play MTG outside of FNM and read. A lot. Most of my hobbies nowadays are not very physical. But I still try to go to the gym. It’s not always easy, but I learned my lesson my freshman year of college.

I was very active growing up. I played outside a lot, played soccer for while, and I took ballet from age 5 through high school. In high school I was at my studio nearly every day, and I loved it. Unfortunately, when I went off to college that stopped. I didn’t have enough open credits to enroll in the ballet classes offered at my school, and I didn’t have the time, or money, to find a local studio to dance at. I tried to go to the gym, but after they closed the pool I stopped going. I hated running, and I felt ridiculous. So I just stopped. And by the time I went home for the summer I noticed that I’d gained a lot of weight. Going from doing hours of physical activity every day to almost none was horrible. That, combined with the unhealthy habits of a college student, wreaked havoc on my body. But luckily, I had some great inspiration to help me get back on track: my mom. After my twin sister and I left for college, she had more time on her hands than she’d had in ages, and she worked hard all year to get in shape. When I arrived home, she looked great. The best she’d looked for almost as long as I could remember, in fact. She also felt great. And I felt terrible.

So even though I had a full-time internship that summer, I invested myself in the effort to get back in shape. My mom got me a membership to her gym, and she encouraged me and went with me. It was hard, but I slowly started to gain more confidence while at the gym. I lifted weights and did both the elliptical machine and the treadmill. At home, I made sure to eat healthy — something I hardly had to worry about in high school — and I always packed a healthy lunch for work. And everything worked, I gradually lost most of the weight I’d gained. I didn’t lose all of it, but that was OK. I was healthier, stronger and happier. And when I went back to school I continued to try to fit in gym time as much as I could. It was never easy, but it always felt good.

That’s what I try to remind myself when I don’t want to go to the gym: it’s worth the time and the effort. Not just for my physical health, but my mental health, too. I’m always more confident and happier when I’ve been good at going to the gym. Unfortunately, working out is always the easiest thing to cross off of a busy to-do list. Life gets in the way a lot, but it’s important not to let it. (And as I edit this post months after I started it, I am very guilty of letting life, the holidays and everything in between get in my way.)

Even though I didn't go to the gym over the holidays, I did make some delicious (and fairly healthy) treats. I also made a lot of unhealthy treats... but it WAS the holidays.

Even though I didn’t go to the gym over the holidays, I did make some delicious (and fairly healthy) treats. 

Hyayshi and I share the opinion that we need to start promoting healthier lifestyles throughout the MTG and gamer communities. As I said above, nerds are some of the nicest, most caring and wonderful people in the world. The games we play enrich our lives, so why not make sure our lives last as long as possible? Of course, it’s hard to broach the topic with people without hurting their feelings or offending them, which is totally understandable. Nobody wants to hear they’re overweight, and often they already know it. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is take care of yourself. Promote a healthy lifestyle by living it. Going to a game night? Bring healthy snacks. Show the people around you what a positive change living a more active, healthier lifestyle can be. Share articles like Hyayshi’s for motivation. In the end, living a healthy lifestyle is up to the individual. But communities like MTG can encourage individuals through, as Hyayshi recommends, promoting a culture of fitness at home. Let’s shake those unhealthy stereotypes, and really take the time to treat our bodies well. After all, they’re what really get us through the marathon tournaments!

My plan to start living healthier is simple: get back into the routine of going to the gym three times a week, start cooking more meals at home, and pack healthy snacks for FNM. In an effort to try new meals, I am participating in Reddit’s r/52weeksofcooking, which gives a category each week for you to find and prepare a meal from. I’m going to blog about the challenge in an effort to hold myself accountable, share the experience, and encourage others.after all, the only way to get better at cooking is to practice, and practicing helps make healthy habits.

So here’s to being healthy and breaking stereotypes in 2014!

All for now,

2014: A new year, a new start, a better NerdMaids

New Year's fireworks above Pikes Peak.

New Year’s fireworks above Pikes Peak.

Alright guys, I admit, that break was much longer than I initially intended it to be. It’s been a busy few months, though, and I’ve gotten a lot of things done, and even more ideas written down.

November was actually filled with writing: I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time, which was a fun and rewarding experience. I didn’t quite get to 50,000 words, but I got really close at 44,000. By the end I was worn out and writing crap (or what I remember thinking was crap, I haven’t actually gone back and reread it), which wasn’t what I wanted to do. I know, I know, the first draft of anything isn’t great… but I have standards people! I’m both excited and nervous to start reading the story I came up with, and hopefully editing it to something presentable.

December was my true break from writing. And with the holidays and a trip to my parents, it was really busy but rejuvenating. It was truly a break from real life, and it was wonderful.

January, so far, has been very eventful. Canceled flights, car accidents and an apartment flooding started of the year for me and Astro. But, I won’t go into that here. Everything is fine now, and we’re both happy to be getting back to normal.

That also means I’m very ready to start fresh and get back into the routine of writing. NaNo proved that I enjoy writing everyday and it really makes me happy. I think the pressure of publishing something three times a week was what was holding me back before. I’ve also been doing fantastic at FNM, so I don’t plan on continuing my FNM recaps every week, opting for more general MTG posts with a little self reflection because I think I was thinking more about the blog at FNM than my matches… not really that great.

So, my plan from here is to post twice a week: once about MTG or board games or whatever, and once about my 52 weeks of cooking challenge. (More on that later. It’s going to be awesome, though!) Then at the end of the month, in an effort to keep up my reading, I’m going to post about the books I’ve read that month. A total of nine posts a month, which seems more doable than 12. I’m not going to set a day of the week for the posts, I’m just going to write them naturally. And I even have a couple ready to go, like my initial plan said. I’ve stuck to my word on that point.

The biggest change will be the shifting emphasis from my FNM recaps, which were previously the backbone of the blog, to a more general blog about my passions, most of which are still very nerdy. I’m very excited for everything I will be writing, and I really hope you all will be there for the ride.

All for now,

Addicted to Charmed.

Several years ago, one of my very good friends told me about Charmed. She said it was among her favorite shows ever, which meant it was almost as good as Gilmore Girls. This was high praise: She has most of the seasons of Gilmore Girls, and at the time we were working our way through them. But, since I was so engrossed in Lorlai and Rory’s world at the time, I didn’t give “Charmed” the chance it deserved.

Fast forward five or six years and I’ve just finished “Orange is the New Black” and am absently browsing Netflix. Up pops “Charmed” and, remembering my friend’s suggestion, I decide to give it ago.

Fast forward only a few weeks and I’m already mostly done with season two. Yeah. I’ve watched around forty episodes of “Charmed” in my spare time. Can you say addicted? At least my work (and MTG playing) hasn’t suffered! Although I have sacrificed a few trips to the gym. Oops.

Charmed is a fun show about witches, warlocks, demons and other supernatural beings. I love the idea that witches could live among us, so that’s probably what initially got me hooked. The three main characters, Prue, Piper and Phoebe, are sisters who came into their power after their grandmother died. They’re among the most powerful witches… ever. They’re “the charmed ones”, and they have “the power of three”.  And they’re pretty kick ass: Prue has the power to move things (telekinesis), Piper can freeze things/ people/ whatever she wants and Phoebe can see the future and the past. (She’s also pretty awesome at kick-boxing, since she didn’t want to be the only one without an ‘active’ power’.

The three of them fight various warlocks and demons in every episode, while dealing with day-to-day life. Each story is definitely entertaining, and usually I have no idea how the writers will be able to tie up all the loose ends by the end of the episode.  It’s just fun to watch. At least, everything I’ve seen so far has been.

I don’t know much about the show besides its characters and dramatic turns in the first couple seasons, so this post won’t be too detailed — I was going to look up more information about it, but Astro warned me that the wikipedia page was riddled with spoilers. And to be honest, I don’t even want to google Charmed because I don’t want anything ruined for me. (I really hate spoilers, and even finding the featured image for this post raised questions that didn’t need to be raised…) But considering the show started in the 90s, I’m amazed I don’t know more about it. Then again, I shouldn’t really be surprised… I’m pretty oblivious to pop culture, and was even more so back then.

But I can tell you my top five favorite things about Charmed, so far:

  1. Prue, Piper and Phoebe are all strong women who aren’t afraid to follow their dreams. Even though they have demons dogging their steps the three of them still find time to pursue their goals. They work hard, and they don’t give up… even when they really, really want to.
  2. They are really good people, but they have weaknesses too. The three of them are very human. As ‘the charmed ones’ they are supposed to protect the innocent and fight for the good side. But they aren’t perfect; they struggle with making the right decision as much as normal people would.
  3. The show is kind of an emotional roller coaster. Some might not view this as a perk, but I think it makes watching it more fun. I like it when I’m so attached to the characters I get emotional.
  4. The bad guys are creative. I’ll be the first to admit that each episode is pretty formulaic, but the foes the three of them need to vanquish are usually pretty interesting. One of my favorites so far was the demon of illusion — he was able to influence audiences of horror movies to make them rowdy and dangerous. And he figured out how to pull the killers from the screen to real life!
  5. It’s just fun. Charmed isn’t the most intellectual fantasy story, and it doesn’t take the much attention to detail to get the whole story, but it’s fun and enjoyable to watch. Which is what entertainment is for, right? 😉

Plus, it’s set in the 90s and early 2000s, so it is fun to look at the technology and fashion and see how much things have changed. I, for one, am glad the whole belly shirt fad is gone. I’m not sure I could pull that off as well as Prue, Piper and Phoebe can!

All for now,

What are some old shows you love? Have you discovered any recently?

A dramatic turnaround: From jinxing myself to success.

I took a week off posting because I was frustrated, worn out and annoyed with Magic. I even debated taking the week off of FNM, too. M14 has not been easy for me, and I have a couple theories about why.

The first is the logical explanation: I’m still a new player and I learned to draft in a super fast format (RTR block) and M14 is super slow. The pace of the format changes a lot of things, including card evaluation and knowing which decks will actually be successful. In RTR, I had the best success with really fast decks. In M14, the format is more geared toward the late game, and it’s taken me pretty much the whole time to figure out how to build a decent draft deck for that. M14 is also the first mono-colored block I’ve played in, so that changes things a bit, too. So, logically, being a new player made the transition to a new set of cards harder for me.

The second is more emotional. I’d had a bad time from the start of the set, which was hard because I had just tasted some amount of routine success. I’d top 8’d a few times and really understood how to draft RTR, and even pick a pack. And everyone told me that I wouldn’t have a problem with M14: Core sets are meant for beginners, so it will be easy. But it wasn’t, so I felt like I failed. And for several weeks I was really hard on myself. Because of that, I think I kind of jinxed myself. I had an expectation that I would do poorly, so I did. Even last week: I started out 2-0 and then lost every single other match. It sucked, and it made me realize I needed to change something.

So I took the week off from posting. I knew posting a recap would make me relive it, and frustrate me even more, so I just didn’t. And then I had a three days off from work so I treated myself to a few days of relaxing and regeneration. I watched a lot of “Charmed”, read a lot and didn’t watch any MTG streams or listen to any MTG podcasts. I hardly even looked at the Theros spoilers or Reddit. And so by Friday, while I wasn’t exactly STOKED to play M14, I felt ready for a fresh try.

And guess what?? I got FIRST PLACE!!!

That’s right, after weeks of sucking ass, I pulled it together, used my brain to draft well and play well and it paid off. And it felt AMAZING. Even better: I played it out for the foil, AND WON. So I have my first hard-earned FNM promo foil to show for a great night of MTG. It’s icing on the cake that it’s an Experiment One, which is one of my favorite cards.

So, without further ado, here’s my recap for September 13. (Apparently Friday the Thirteenth is lucky for me?)

YEAH FOIL! First time winning the match for the foil, and first time making legit first place.

YEAH FOIL! First time winning the match for the foil, and first time making legit first place.


Pack One — I first-picked a Sengir Vampire over my rare, a Grim Return. A 4/4 flier for five with upside is just too good to pass. Plus I like black in M14; I think it’s strong and has a lot of good cards. From there, I second-picked a Barrage of Expendables because there wasn’t much else in the pack and if I decided to draft the B/R sacrifice deck it’d be good. I third-picked an Ajani’s Chosen. I felt it was early enough to build around if I wanted and I already had one enchantment. But I wasn’t convinced — I didn’t want to start picking not-so-strong cards because of one strong one. So I spent the rest of the pack picking up the best red and black cards, with the occasional white card. But when I got a really late Divination, I started picking up some blue, too. I didn’t really have a solid game plan, but with cards like Sengir Vampire, Gnawing Zombie and Liturgy of Blood, I was pretty sure I wanted to be in black at least.

Pack Two — I was rewarded for sticking with black by opening a Lifebane Zombie, so I was pretty stoked for that. My second color was picked for me by the person to my left passing me an Ogre Battledriver for my second pick. I had some strong cards in red already, so it just solidified my plan. From there I picked up a fairly late Young Pyromancer, a Molten Birth, a couple Act of Treasons and an Academy Raider to help my red.

Pack Three — I don’t remember what I opened or took for my last first pick, but I think it might have been a Flames of the Firebrand because I needed more removal. I do remember that I finally was able to pick up a Corpse Hauler, got my Corrupt, a Marauding Maulhorn and my second Barrage of Expendables in that pack, though. I also picked up a Darksteel Ingot in case I wanted to splash some blue, a Child of Night and a Nightwing Shade. Nothing too spicy, but all things that were very helpful in my deck.

I ended up running just a straight-up R/B deck, and when Steve saw it he said there was no reason I shouldn’t get top 8 if I played well. He said something along the lines of ‘just don’t make stupid mistakes and you’ll get there’. So I was pretty happy going into the matches.

Check out the complete deck here.

THE MATCHES (Final record: 4-1)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t anticipating doing as well as I did, so I did not take notes, but I’ll do my best from my life totals and memory.

Match One (2-1) — I started off the night with a strong game in my first match. I kept a pretty fast hand and quickly started the race by playing Child of Night and immediately putting Lightening Talons on it. My opponent was playing a B/G deck though, and was able to put Troll Hide on his Rumbling Baloth to shut that down. It came down to an old fashioned race, but I was so far ahead it didn’t end up well for my opponent. His deck worked much better for him in game two — I kept a pretty slow hand, and he curved out very well. I got my Barrage out, which was the only way I dealt him damage the whole time. He was racing, and I didn’t get any good creatures to block, so I’d chump and then sacrifice my creatures, hoping to stay in the game long enough to pull something good. The next game was basically the same, but in reverse. I curved out well and he played two Dark Prophecies and only a couple creatures. After the match, my opponent

Match Two (0-2) — My only match loss of the night was to a U/W deck that was super tempo-y and had all the answers. I had a great start game one — I got my Battledriver out and everything — but eventually my opponent was able to deal with it and pretty much every other creature I tried to play, or even got on board. To top it off, her top end was complete with an Air Servant and a Serra Angel. Oh well. I had to mulligan game two, and I kept a hand that I thought could get there, but never did. It was unfortunate, but it happens. She ended up getting 9th place, so she obviously had a decent deck, too.

Match Three (2-1) — I actually started off the round by losing my first game. My opponent was running R/W slivers, but neither of us hit anything really nuts. He was able to kill me because the only creature I drew the whole time was my Maulhorn. I even Lightening Talon’d it up, but couldn’t win the race because by the time I got it out, he was too far ahead. But it was close — he ended the game at three life. Game two was also close. A well-timed Corrupt swung the race in my favor and I was able to win. Game three was kind of unfortunate for my opponent — he had to mulligan down to five, and didn’t really stand a chance against my hand if I drew a third land, which I immediately did. I had Barrage, a Blur Sliver and a couple Act of Treasons to start and I stole, attacked with and sacrificed everything he got out. It was hardly fair, but felt good anyway.

Match Four (2-0) — This match was fun. My opponent was playing a U/W deck with Jace in it, which I knew going in. I was only slightly intimidated, but knew if I got the cards I needed, I would be OK. In game one he managed to set up quite the defense — a Wall of Frost and an Angelic Wall — but my Academy Raider and Barrage were able to get through. He got Jace out and milled me twice, but because of that I was able to use my Corpse Hauler to get back my Sengir Vampire and kill Jace before he was able to mill me out completely. He shut down the Sengir with Pacifism before I was able to kill him outright, but I was able to sacrifice that and the other creatures he’d enchanted to my Barrage and killed him with three cards left in my library. Game two was a bit more grindy than game one. He set up another massive defense with two Wall of Frosts, but I had my Raider again and was able to get damage through slowly. I was able to two-for-one him with Flames, so that helped get some early damage through, but that was all reversed when he put Divine Favor on his Griffin Sentinel. I got my Sengir out eventually, and was able to make some headway — he didn’t block with his Sentinal once, and that put him in range of just pure burn range — I had Barrage and Gnawing Zombie out, so I was able to sac all my creatures to deal him four damage to end the game.

Match Five (2-1) — Going into this match, my opponent offered the intentional draw into top 8. I would probably have made it, but there was a chance I’d be knocked out if we didn’t, so I decided to play it out. My opponent was also nice enough to say that if things started going badly for me, he’d offer the draw again. (I think he knew how much of a big deal getting top 8 would be, and he usually gets it when he plays.) But I’m glad I played it out — it was an epic match against a really good player, and I’m proud I was able to win. Game one wasn’t looking too good for me — he was winning the race, and I didn’t have many answers for his fliers. He was playing blue, with Opportunity and a lot of counters. I saved my ass by killing one of his fliers with Corrupt while he was tapped out — that took me from two life to six. I had Barrage on Board, so I was really hoping to pull an Act of Treason to turn things around. I had a couple other removal spells that helped me stay alive, and he was at six life as well. When he played his Sengir Vampire, I thankfully top-decked my Act of Treason and was able to sacrifice it. I won by sacrificing three creatures to Barrage and killing him. It was awesome. Game two wasn’t so great. I started off OK, but he played Rod of Ruin, which just killed me. A lot of the creatures I played that game were 1-toughness, and everytime I got something out he was all NOPE, gonna kill that before it can even block. I sided in Demolish, just for that game three. I didn’t end up needing it, though, because I got out my Sengir on time and had other creatures to back him up. I even put Lightening Talons on it, so all my opponents fliers turned into chump blockers. (I forgot to put counters on my Sengir though… oops.) Apparently I could have killed him a turn earlier by taking advantage of my sacrifice outlets more, though: I’d played a Blur Sliver, but I could have sacrificed my creatures to my Barrage and Gnawing Zombie instead and killed him. I was at six life at the end, so my opponent said there could have been a way for him to get back in the game after I didn’t kill him when I had the chance. Luckily that didn’t happen though. It was a good match, and when I told the judge I won, his response was “Really? That’s awesome, [my opponent] is really good, this is a top 8 you should be proud of.”

And I was really proud. It was a really good feeling and when I played for the foil, I felt confident in myself and my deck. That match went well, too. It was slow and grindy, but I still won. Observers pointed out that I could have been more aggressive with my attacks because of my Barrage, which probably would have been smart. But I still won, so I’m not too worried. It’s definitely something to keep in mind though. Just because going slow is working, doesn’t mean it’s going to win the match — the more draw steps you give your opponent, the more chances you give them to get back in the game.

I got lucky that my opponents never did. But my success wasn’t due to luck, it was due to playing well, drafting well and trusting myself. I am a good Magic player, so I just have to remember that. Confidence — not cockiness — is key. Good luck is just a bonus. (And fun fact: I actually lost most of my die rolls all night, and only got Molten Birth back to my hand a couple times.)

All for now,

What are your biggest lessons from misplays? Have you ever thrown a game because you didn’t just win when you could?

Poaching: Easy and healthy.

When I saw that I had to poach something for this week’s challenge, I immediately though about eggs. But then Astro reminded me that you can poach all sorts of things, and suggested that I should try something else. I agreed; poaching an egg seemed too boring. I probably should learn how to at some point, since I never have, but I wanted to do something else  for the challenge. So I went to google again, and looked up what poaching actually meant, and sifted through recipes until I found one I thought would be good.

Poaching is just defined as “to cook in boiling or simmering liquid”. It’s one of the healthiest ways to fix meat because often there is no additional oil or fat in the cooking process. In the end, I decided to try poaching salmon. Salmon is delicious, but I’ve always baked it with butter and spices… yummy, but not the healthiest option. The recipe I chose used water with veggies in it as the poaching liquid. It was a simple process: just chop up the veggies, place in a high-sided pan with water, bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer, let the veggies cook for a while (for flavor) and then slide the salmon fillets in and cook in the water for five minutes. Seriously, if you are wary about cooking, try poaching. It was easy and the salmon was great.


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Poaching doesn’t really add much flavor, so sometimes the dish can end up quite bland, but the salmon turned out very well. I also made a dill cucumber salad as a side, and made pretzel bread the same day. It was very adventurous, but everything turned out very well. I think I’m getting the hang of this cooking thing! Astro told me it was her favorite dish so far, which she’s said a couple times. I think it just means I’m getting better and better.

I’m really happy I decided to do the challenge. I’m finding that I really enjoy cooking, and making dinner/ lunch is fun instead of a chore now. It’s becoming more of a hobby than just something I need to do.  Plus, even if what I make that week isn’t the healthiest thing ever, I still have more control over the quality of ingredients I put in it, which is better than a frozen dinner/ dessert by far.

I think I might be officially turning into a cook!

What quick, easy and healthy cooking techniques do you know?

All for now,

p.s. Next week’s theme is super-duper awesome, and I’m beyond excited for it. So keep an eye out for my post! 

Jamaican? What?

This week’s 52weeksofcooking challenge was Jamaican, but I had no idea what to cook. Or even what constituted Jamaican cuisine, honestly. I googled it, and almost nothing came up that looked good… or that looked good AND within my capacity to make. Things like jerk chicken were a possibility, but I don’t have a grill. Meat patties were another option, but I didn’t really feel like attempting stuffed pastries again so soon after the pierogi debacle. And goat curry or oxtail soup just did not sound appetizing. Nor did turned cornmeal or porridge. But I wasn’t going to let myself skip a week of the challenge, so I was determined to find something.

While desperately looking for recipes that were both appealing and that I felt comfortable attempting, I found a nice little blog “Cook Like a Jamaican”, which shares family recipes that a mom is teaching her daughters. Each recipe even has a video! While perusing their blog, which had lots of things that I could see myself making, I found a couple recipes for drinks, and decided that since last week I did a dessert, it would make sense to follow it by making a drink. That narrowed down the choices considerably, and I ended up picking “Guinness Punch”. The other drinks were very summer-y, and I felt like anything with Guinness would be yummy.

Astro was one of my taste-testers!

Astro was one of my taste-testers!

The recipe is simple and easy to make (especially if you watch the video, complete with Caribbean-style music in the background). And it was very, very yummy.  Here’s the recipe I followed:

In Jamaica there are two drinks that are known to be men drinks. One is Irish Moss and the other is Guinness Stout Punch. It has been said is that both make a man more virile. I’m not sure how true that is, but that’s the story that has been passed on for generations.

Quite a few of you have requested this recipe so I thought I’d share the one that most reminds me of the stout punch of my youth. Because I used the lighter Irish Guinness draught stout, it isn’t as bitter as it is when using English Guinness stout, which is fine by me. So, if you prefer a stronger, more bitter flavour buy the latter when making this recipe. It uses 5 ingredients and it literally takes 5 minutes! Enjoy!


2 cups Guinness Stout (Irish)
3/4 cup Sweetened Condensed Milk
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 large Egg, beaten
10 Ice Cubes


1. Put stout, milk and spices in blender and blend on High
2. Add beaten egg and blend again
3. Add ice cubes and blend until smooth

Serves 3 to 4

Jamaican Guinness punch. Simple: just throw the ingredients into the blender and go!

Jamaican Guinness punch. Simple: just throw the ingredients into the blender and go!

I followed the instructions without any mishaps, mistakes or accidents, and it turned out great! There was a lot of it, too. Definitely enough for three to four people. It was easy to make, and delicious. The taste-to-effort ratio was very good, since it was so simple.

I’d highly recommend this treat, even if it’s not too healthy for you. (But, if the stories are true, it could heighten your virility 😉 )

All for now,

Everything takes practice, especially cooking.

I’m already five weeks into the 52 weeks of cooking challenge, which is rather hard to believe. I already feel like I’m a better cook, and I’m definitely learning from my mistakes. When I started the challenge I just thought of it as a way to get me cooking more, and trying new things. Now, though, I see that it will definitely be a year full of experiments, first attempts, mistakes and a TON of learning.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the best cook I know. And that’s OK, because I’m a young twenty-something who hasn’t had to cook for herself all that long. My parents are great cooks because they’ve had years of practice. And Astro pointed out that grandmas are the best cooks because they’ve had the most practice. So I have a lot of practicing ahead of me to get good — a lifetime of practice, in fact! I’ll settle for improving enough to feel comfortable cooking new recipes, and enjoying them. And so far, so good … for the most part. (I’ve only cut myself with a knife once!)

The first five challenge topics were: eggs; something with an ingredient you hated as a kid; something made in one pot; polish food; and vanilla. I made scrambled eggs; bacon and brussels sprouts pasta; my dad’s beef stew; pierogi; and vanilla bean mousse. Out of all of them, only one was a huge bust, and that was the pierogi. I tried to make them completely from scratch, and the recipe I followed made it seem a lot easier than it was, so I was over confident when I started. I don’t think I did anything terribly wrong, and I ended up with some edible pierogi, but they weren’t delicious enough to warrant all the work I’d put into them. I think it would go a lot better the second time around, but it will be a while before I try again. The beef stew and vanilla bean mousse were easily the best so far, and the brussels sprouts and bacon pasta was alright, but not great. And eggs are eggs. Nothing too hard or spectacular about them.

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My dad’s beef stew is one of my all-time favorite dishes, so I decided I’d highlight it in this post, since I don’t want to go into detail about all five — that would be one massive post! Plus it’s a family recipe, so I’m excited to share it with you guys. While I was home over the holidays I made sure to get the recipe, and have my dad show me all his tricks and techniques. It’s a fairly simple recipe, but you have to have several hours to make it. It’s totally worth it, though, I promise.

Beef stew, bread and beer. Quite possible the best meal ever. The puzzle in the background is just a bonus.

Beef stew, bread and beer. Quite possible the best meal ever. The puzzle in the background is just a bonus.

Beef Stew


The spices are really what set this recipe apart. The flavor of this beef stew is strong and wonderful. There’s nothing bland or simple about it … it’s very delicious.

  • 2 pounds chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes (my dad recommends the pot roast cut)
  • 1/4 cup shortening (like crisco)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon season-all
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes
  • 2 teaspoons beef flavor base (my dad actually uses a little over a tablespoon of ‘Better than Bouillon’ base, mixed with the water to start)
  • 2 cups water/ broth to start (see above)
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 4 small potatoes (or one small one per person, depending on how much you like potatoes)
  • 4 small onions (I only used one large onion, and was happy)


In a big pot (the bigger the better, I’ve discovered), brown meat in hot shortening. Add seasonings and water/ broth while stirring. Cover and bring to a simmer. Let simmer as long as you can — the longer you can  the meat gets super tender and a delicious melt-in-your mouth quality. The original recipe says 1 1/2 hours, but when Astro and I made it we let it simmer for nearly three. We added beef broth (the simple store brand kind) about every half an hour to be sure it ended up with enough liquid (the first time I made the stew  myself I didn’t add as much, and it wasn’t as good… but I really like broth, so it’s really up to you and your preferences). About 45-minutes before you want to eat, add more broth and bring it to a boil while you prepare the veggies. Peel the carrots and cut into 1-inch pieces. Quarter  the potatoes (Astro and I left the skins on, but you can peel them if you want). Peel onion and quarter (or just peel the four small onions). Add vegetables to stew and make sure there’s enough broth. Let simmer for another 30-45 minutes, or until veggies are tender. And you’re done!

Astro and I got some sourdough bread to go with it, and it was delicious. I definitely recommend having some sort of bread to dip in the broth — it’s one of my favorite parts! Beer also goes very well with it, just saying.

The stew is also very tasty reheated, so if you only cook for yourself just put the leftovers in some tupperware and save them for several great lunches! Astro and I often put leftovers in the freezer as well, to make sure they don’t go bad before we get a chance to eat them.

And if you’re a vegetarian, I’m sorry. This stew actually made one high school friend give up on being vegetarian, just so she could eat it. I’d asked her if she wanted to stay for dinner without realizing she’d decided to become a vegetarian. My dad’s stew smelled so good she couldn’t resist. It wasn’t until after she ate it that she told me. And she didn’t regret it at all. It’s that good.

And now my mouth is watering and I want to make it again.

All for now,

Do you have any favorite family recipes you’d like to share?

Breaking the cycle.

It’s time for a change.

I love “Nerdmaids” and I’ve put a lot of work into it, which has made it the most successful blog I’ve ever been part of. I’m very proud of everything I’ve done to this point. Sure, in a perfect world I would have been posting 100 percent consistently, but running a one woman show is hard. Especially if you’re writing everything from scratch and scrambling for posts. And because of that, writing for “Nerdmaids” has started to feel like I’m treading water. The blog is continuing, I’m still writing, but nothing is changing. And while this has been fine for the past few months, lately I’ve realized that I want more.

I want more readers. I want more unique content. I want higher-quality posts. I want to expand my content. I want, I want, I want. But how do I get there?

I’ve been thinking about an answer all week. I have a lot ideas floating around in my head, and I think if I give myself proper time to develop them, they could turn into great things. But in my current posting cycle, it would be impossible to take the time to really work on them. I don’t have any drafts at the moment, so every post is written and published in the same day. It makes it impossible to take the time to really work on a post, which means the quality of my writing takes a hit. But I’ve been telling myself that it’s important to get the posts up to keep my readers and so I don’t let them down. But that’s a cop out. I realized that if I really value my readers, I would take the time to create the best content possible for them.  Especially if I want my blog to continue to grow and develop.

But that means it’s time for some pretty drastic measures. I can’t just turn “Nerdmaids” into my vision overnight. And I can’t even do it in a day or two. I need time to write posts without having to worry about publishing them, and I need time to develop a stock pile of already-written, high-quality posts to publish so I can continue to write posts  without the pressure of publication upon completion.

So for the time being “Nerdmaids” is going to go on a publishing hiatus. I’m going to continue writing posts and developing content, and once I feel like I have enough strong posts to start fresh and continue a better writing/ publishing cycle, I’ll start publishing them. Unfortunately, I don’t know how long this will take. But I do promise to return.  And when I do, it will be awesome, and hopefully with some reinforcements.

I’ve been trying to convince myself for a while that I can make “Nerdmaids” everything I want it to be on my own. But to be honest, it’s hard to do everything by myself. I was spoiled at the beginning because I had Astro’s help, which was wonderful. She brought a completely different aspect to the blog, and her posts about Harvest Moon and Gurren Lagan still bring readers. All I write about is Magic and books, which are both topics that I love, but definitely not the only nerdy things girls love. I won’t ever write about the new Pokemon games because I’ve never been into it. But I know there are a whole lot of people that do care, and would probably read a post or two about all the cool features. And that there might be a girl out there willing to write one for me.

This is my humble cry for help. So girls, if you want to write for “Nerdmaids”, I’d be happy to let you. All you have to do is email me at and tell me what you’d write about, and provide a sample of your writing. Or just send me a post. I’m open to pretty much anything, as long as it’s well-written. And guys out there, if you know someone who might like to write for me, please pass the word on. I want to get as many ‘nerdmaids’ writing for the blog as possible! And if you just want to write one guest post, that’s totally fine too. Just let me know when you email me. You’d still get to be an honorary ‘nerdmaid’.

Seriously. Any questions, just comment or email me at I want “Nerdmaids” to be the best blog possible, and I can’t do it on my own!

All for now,

How do you keep posting quality content? Do you stick to a schedule or just post when you can?