Chocolate Marshmallow Bark

by Wednesday, December 07, 2016
The basis of this recipe is actually a Weight Watchers recipe I got a loooong time ago. I riffed on it and made my own version, which I make just about every single Christmas season because it's so damn good, and even more damn simple!

Chocolate Marshmallow Bark
Yields 12 servings (or more if you cut 'em smaller like we do)

Ingredients

2-10 oz. packages Ghiradelli 60% Cocao bittersweet chocolate ( or chocolate chips of choice)
1 Tbsp butter
1-10oz package mini marshmallows (6 cups)
1-5oz. package Craisins dried cranberries (~3/4 cup)
Sprinkling of shredded coconut if desired
You can also add nuts, substitute other dried fruit, crispy cereal or oats, crumbled cookies, etc as you like. This is very versatile!

Instructions

Line a 9- X 9-inch pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Place chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe measuring bowl and microwave at HIGH 2 minutes or until chocolate melts, stirring every 15-20 seconds. Stir in the marshmallows & dried cranberries.
Scrape the chocolate mixture into the prepared pan using a silicon spatula; smooth into a somewhat even layer.
Sprinkle with a light dusting of shredded coconut if desired. 
Cover and refrigerate until the chocolate sets, at least 1 hour and then keep refrigerated until ready to eat.
Cut into 12 pieces and serve.

Original WW Notes:
Nutritional Estimates Per Serving: 117 calories, 7.9 g fat, 12.9 g carbs, 1.5 g fiber, 1 g protein and 3 Weight Watchers PointsPlus value

Video games "aren't enriching" - my response

by Friday, October 21, 2016
A friend in the dance community posted a request for feedback on a particular video game franchise, rightfully concerned about her daughter's exposure to various themes of violence prevalent in games today and asking what we thought. Among the commentary was the following:

"I can 't see where this or any other game is a necessity for the development of anyone's child.
I'm so grateful that my days after school were spent playing football, basketball and baseball and drawing and painting in my spare time.
Life is about creating memories. I can hardly see where playing video games creates memories."


To which I had a ready reply:

Not all things we engage in need to be for our development. Some things are just fun for fun's sake!

That said, some of my FAVORITE memories as a kid--in the 80's no less!-- was sitting with my brother and playing Zelda. One of us would be the navigator with the map and the other would run the game, then we would swap. We would have friends over and play together as well.
I also was in theater, choir, took dance and gymnastics, and played on basketball and volleyball teams, went camping in the summers, and loved to ride my bike. Later in college, my console system was one of the only ones in the dorm. I would invite people over to play, would leave my door open and people would gather to watch and play together. I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends with that shared interest. Today I have an awesome husband who also loves to game, and we do it together--both board and video games. We sometimes play online with friends who live in other states! Very enriching for me my whole life, with meaningful relationships and happy memories to spare.

I go to multiple conventions every year where I meet hundreds, nay thousands, of people who share my interests. Some of us spend months crafting elaborate costumes to dress up as our favorite characters, some of us develop games for a living now and get paid to do something we love and brings other people joy, some of us create art around various game franchises, themes, and characters; some of us use the vehicle of gaming to tell meaningful stories or messages ("That Dragon, Cancer" and "We Are Chicago" being two games with moving messages, just off the top of my head)--there are so many creative and interesting outlets which grow from gamers' experiences.

It's okay if this isn't your idea of fun, or if you wouldn't find it enriching or connecting. For me it definitely has been. I am also a dancer, an artist, a seamstress, an amateur chef, a community-builder, a dog foster momma, a gardener, and many other things.
I still love to ride my bike! Video games can be as much a way to connect with stories, people, and creativity as any other activity, and the implication that it will somehow supplant or prevent other endeavors "in the real world" is the kind of hyperbole I usually see reserved to old church ladies clucking about "kids these days". I hope you will open your mind to the idea that gaming can have value and enrichment just like any other hobby out there today.

Shametember 2016 - Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu Review

by Sunday, October 02, 2016
Finally got this to the table on the very last day of #Shametember as a double-feature with Isle of Skye. Just enough like Pandemic to be familiar, and just enough theme and new mechanics to give it its own flair. Theme did NOT feel tacked on, as we feared.

The board and components are beautiful--colorful without detracting from the dark atmosphere. The board is a bit *too* dark, and fonts difficult to read, but the locations and card placement markers are minimal enough that one will soon learn where everything is and won't have to read as much to navigate after a few plays. The artwork on the cards are evocative, and the Clue cards couldn't be any easier to read if you tried. In fact, compared to the art and design on the other cards, they seem downright plain, sporting a simple woodcut style image in white on a solid color background; but I offer that as an observation, not a complaint.

The addition of Awakening Rituals (the cousin of Infection Rate) bringing out random Ancient Ones and various one-time or permanent effects definitely makes it feel more consequential to raise the rate, even in the early game. Shoggoths appearing and moving toward gates as a further risk to life and limb was also a nice touch. I was disappointed to find there was not a mechanic analogous to Eradicating Disease from the original Pandemic, save for a single "Elder Sign" Relic you may or may not draw which allows one gate to be sealed, preventing Summoning in that town for the remainder of the game (barring extenuating circumstances). However, in retrospect, with travel largely simplified, and a smaller map of locations to deal with overall, if one could seal each gate with an Elder Sign, the run to the end of the game to close the final gate might be quite flaccid.

One part I felt was weak was sanity. The random die roll feels out of place in a Pandemic game, taking you out of the action/roleplay more than I thought it would. The inability to regain any sanity except by being the one person to close a gate, or a draw random Relic, is frustrating, and not in a "gee whiz that's a bummer" but a "dammit, why can't I just go to a sanatorium and heal up with action points or something?!" Maybe a house rule is in order should this continue to chafe.

My only other complaint is the miniatures. On the one hand, as lovers of miniatures, we're happy to have them and it enhances the thematic immersion of playing different roles. However, the necessity of keeping the cultists small enough to spread 26 of them all over the board means they look like tiny little blue Jawas next to the Investigators, and the awesomely-sculpted Shoggoths lose their imposing power when we still stand a half-head taller than them side-by-side. I almost would have preferred a more abstract threat in lieu of the cultists (growing dread?) represented by tokens or cubes than teensy-tiny robed baby-people.

As with original Pandemic and its offshoots, the less players, the easier it is. With two players, we closed all the gates, and that was with overlooked rules that worked against us: we forgot to a) draw a Relic card each time we did and b) remove one cultist from each location in a town. We are also fully aware of the luck-of-the-draw involved, as with any Pandemic game. A few well-placed Summoning of Shoggoths on or nearer to gates and our Ancient Ones would have been awakening in no time.

Definitely an excellent addition to our complete Pandemic Collection. Looking forward to many more games!


Shametember - aka The Creation of a Gaming Monster and Dealing With The Aftermath

by Monday, September 19, 2016
Orleans by Reiner Stockhausen



I am very lucky.

I have a partner who enjoys gaming. A partner who will delay eating dinner, put aside other interests and concerns, sit across a table with me, and play board games for hours. It took about 15 years to get here, and yeah...it's a blessing and a curse because I created a monster!

I grew up with board games. When we got married I tried to get him into games. He played sometimes, and I thought I was winning him over, but he never latched onto it. I understood only recently that his idea of board games was party games; and honestly, I hadn't Eurogamed myself until a couple years back now, so I wasn't helping disavow him of this, not realizing where his head was at. Being a shy guy, he hated the requirement of bigger groups and especially hated feeling put on the spot. Being very social and outgoing, these are games that I got excited about, and I didn't realize how uncomfortable he was as he struggled to play them with me and even good friends.

So when we discovered Pandemic and the world of co-op board games (our preference is co-op play on every platform we share), it blew the top off of games immediately. Then we discovered Dominion and Carcassonne, and other mechanics of deck builder, tableau building, and worker-placement which didn't require 'take that!' tactics and attacking each other directly. Instead we discovered there was a world of games where we could focus on our individual strengths/personal best, and it literally changed our life. I personally like that, barring some rare and painful experiences (usually me! LOL), our scores in these competitive games tend to be really close--there are so many paths to victory and everyone focuses on what appeals to them, so no one gets utterly smashed or humiliated.

This slow-build to a fully participating gaming household has become an explosion of manic acquisition of ALL THE GAMES in 2016. Which brings us to our Wall of Shame. In gaming parlance, your Wall of Shame is the collection of games you have purchased but not yet played. It is not uncommon for casual gamers to have a few untouched titles, and for more avid players (and flush players), the Wall of Shame may include a...well...shameful number of games still in plastic from the factory. Why, you may ask?

Wall of Shame - An Explanation

Above & Below by Ryan Laukat, PAX 2016
In general, board gamers tend to revel in their senses, enchanted by piles of little plastic coins, the tinkling sound as they are poured into a bowl in preparation for a game, the weight and sound of tumbling dice on a tabletop, the sight of a colorful board and the unique shapes of player pieces. It’s not just the playing of the game that appeals; it is the having of a game that is also joyful. The boxes on display are like art on a wall to gamers, and they will spend almost as much time and money on finding the perfect shelving to display their games as they do on procuring the games themselves. There is a thrill in simply touching game components, or perusing well-designed rulebooks like a favorite novel...or maybe it’s more akin to a catalog of fun stories and worlds yet to be discovered.

A common simple pleasure among gamers is the delightful act of unboxing. Unboxing is the visceral experience of stripping off the shrink-wrap plastic seal and being the first to see, smell, touch, or otherwise experience a fresh board game. The unique bouquet of pristine cardboard, the little scritching-pop sound of punching out game pieces, opening the rule book for the first time...sooooo glossy... Opening new board games is like opening presents on Christmas morning! While the play(ing) is the thing, there is a certain exhilaration in the delayed gratification represented by a game still wrapped in plastic.

(Aside: Hell, we gamers even get excited about games that we don’t own yet! When new games are added to Kickstarter, or will soon be available for purchase online or in a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store), the hype train pulls out of the station. The hype train is just another word for “buzz”. It’s the exponentially expanding banter, online and around gaming tables, about the latest games: what the game mechanics are, the quality of the components, how balanced the gameplay is, who has created a video play-through in advance of the release. And the more people talk about it, the more people talk about it. The train picks up speed, and with it the sense of urgency in being one of the first to own the best new titles increases with every forum discussion or YouTube review. Pretty soon, some gamers are pretty sure they will simply die if they can’t snag one of the first copies of New Game X as soon as it is available! But I digress...)

Ahem. So about those games still in their plastic...

The Rise of The Wall



Burgle Bros. by Tim Fowers
Given the aforementioned flurry of acquisition in the last year, we already had a healthy Wall of Shame to contend with. We would occasionally take a stab at diminishing the volume of said WoS, but we have discovered some real gems among our collection, which make frequent appearances and take precedence over cracking a new game. Sometimes our choice of game is driven by simplicity--swiftness to set-up and tear-down, as well as length of gameplay, will determine if we can play on a given weeknight. Ease of teaching/learning is a motivator when we invite friends over to try something new to them. The desire to stage a comeback from a bad loss in a previous session may drive us back to a co-op to try to wrest victory from the jaws of defeat. And just the general mood of one or both of us will be the limitor on other cases. And so The Wall grew...

And here we find ourselves in fall of 2016. Since the gaming revolution has come to our home, September is a game-tastic month now. My birthday is near the beginning of the month, and has traditionally included at least some form of game gifted by my well-meaning husband as a nod to my love of them. Many years were console games for our PS3, but most include at least a card game or some light party game he found at Target. The past two years, however, have included an influx of co-op and Eurogames.<

That same weekend of my birthday happens to be PAX Prime (aka PAX West) in my hometown; which, while ostensibly a convention surrounding video games, has a strong showing of board games in the form of a whole booth dedicated to indie game designers, multiple prolific publishers and vendors of board games with wares for sale, and a large lending library with rooms of empty tables inviting all-comers to borrow any game of your choosing and play it at your leisure. Last year we were ill-prepared to make best use of this library, but this year...we came with a list! Over the year, yours truly cross-referenced my BoardGameGeek.com “want to own” list with the current list of available games in the lending library. Some games fell off the list over the year as we either played a game and decided it was not for us, or we ended up being gifted or purchasing said game in the intervening time. But when the weekend began, we had a list of about 10 games we hoped to get our hands on (at least some of them), and consider for purchase.

What was unexpected was the Barnes & Noble 40% off customer appreciation coupon...that same week. Oops, and we pre-ordered Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu earlier this summer from CoolStuffInc, and of course we HAD to buy enough to get free shipping, so tacked on three. other. games. And Chris and I had long ago backed some Kickstarter games, as long ago as last year, which are coincidentally slated to ship this month as well (which doesn’t take into account another six he has backed which all coincidentally due to ship in November?!). Thus, as a result of birthday acquisitions, coupon-drive purchases, the back-ordered games, Kickstarters, and the inevitable PAX purchases...um... The Wall of Shame is bigger than ever, by...like...a lot. *hanging head* So we instituted Shametember!

Shametember In Shaytown

Dead of Winter in the heat of summer
We instituted the concept of Shametember to motivate us to tear into those as-of-yet-unplayed games and get them to the table. The goal is to play a new game every day of September, come hell or high water, preferably from our own collection, though not strictly required. It is our challenge to choose games we can play each day, even on “school nights”, to knock back the encroaching Wall of Shame. It doesn’t preclude playing favorites, but it has to be in addition to a new game in that 24 hour period, and significant expansions count. A “significant expansion” is defined as a measurable alteration of existing gameplay. So for instance, Five Tribes: The Artisans of Naqala counts because it includes entirely new tile types and tribe powers to the game, but Marvel Legendary: Paint the Town Red doesn’t count because it is essentially the same mechanics skinned with different heroes. Leave it to gamers to gameify gaming, amirite?!

We came up with this idea on September 2nd, so we started a day behind, but we are making up for it by making a gaming date with friends on October 1st, essentially adapting our goal to “30 New Games in 30 Days”. And full disclosure, we further gave ourselves a “pass” one day over this past weekend when a MMORPG game in which we have collectively clocked ~1500 game hours dropped a new update we have been waiting for since spring and we devoted most of the afternoon and evening to a deep dive together, nearly forgetting to eat or sleep let alone get to the table to try and wrap our brain around a new game. We did at least pinky-swear that one day this month we will play two new games in one day to make up for it, maintaining our adapted 30-in-30 goal. Hey, it’s our game, we get to decide how to play it.

At any rate, the moral of the story is that it has been going great! It’s been a lot of fun to finally get to some games which have been staring at us for a long time (I’m looking at you, The Swarm, the game that had been longest member of our unplayed list at 10 months--no more!), games which one of us has been wanting to play while the other continues demurring (no more excuses, Sherlock Holmes-Consulting Detective), as well as immediately crack some of the brand-spanking-new birthday/PAX week goodies (finally, Machi Koro is mine!). We have spent a significant portion of our free time together away from screens of any kind, exercising our minds and interacting with one another directly through the medium of game. Gaming has brought us closer than ever in 2016, and this challenge together continues to connect us joyfully as a couple. With a month as fun as the one we’re having now, I am excited to see what the rest of this gaming year brings.

A typical game night in Shaytown

Why Voting Your Conscience Doesn't Actually Work

by Saturday, July 23, 2016
I have a difficult message to send. Pretty sure it's gonna make some people pretty angry at first, but I really hope that it will be read and considered. I do my best to share any message I have passionately, but with facts and resources to back it up. I am not forwarding a meme here, I am speaking from the heart and mind. Thanks in advance for reading.

(Edited to add: I have been getting some accusations of being a "Hillbot". For one, that is a childish term and I think we should be more respectful of people who may not share our political reviews. Secondly, I have been an ardent, vocal, and active Bernie supporter, volunteering at the local office, volunteering at the local caucus, and advocate online at every opportunity. This is not something I take lightly, and I am not a Clinton apologist by any stretch. So please read with an open mind and don't decide you know me from a single online post. This is carefully considered and deeply personal to me on many levels.)

Bernie supporters/disillusioned Dems who say they are voting third party because they "refuse to vote against their conscience" are admitting:

a) they don't understand how voting works in America
and/or
b) they honestly feel their personal comfort in knowing they "voted their conscience" is more important than the greater good of their fellow citizens.

Newsflash: Trump is far far worse than Hillary--whatever your personal collection of progressive issues may be, I promise you Trump has it covered in spades and WORSE:

  • War? Worse, including killing innocent women and children, and bragging about being willing to commit war crimes against allies, check.
  • LGBTQ issues? Worse, wants to overturn Obergefell/rights to marry, check.
  • Income equality? Not even on his radar and wants to gut social programs to boot, check.
  • Racial equality? Do I even have to spell it out for you?
  • Want a Supreme Court which will represent your values? Justices outlive presidencies, friends, and you don't want who the GOP will put into the office deciding our law for 10+ years do you?
  • Shall we get into his bigoted, women's-rights-hating VP running-mate while we're at it...?
The list goes on.
And because Spoiler Effect* is a real thing, if you don't vote one of the two major parties, you are actually empowering the candidate you agree with the least. If you believe as I do that Trump is the worst danger to America and the planet (yes, not hyperbole from an environmental and anti-war standpoint), then voting third party is shooting yourself and your country in the foot.

(*Here is what is wrong with how voting works in America, and I have linked you in at 5 minutes where you can see why voting third party creates the spoiler effect and is basically a vote for the worst for your values. https://youtu.be/s7tWHJfhiyo?t=300 )

Voting third party does not "send a message" to the Dems. Believe me, the two party system is working as intended, and as anyone who saw the votes split by Perot and Nader in their respective races, it doesn't send any message or change the system to vote third party. I encourage you to read more about it from FairVote, an organization devoted to changing the system:
http://www.fairvote.org/third-parties-and-the-spoiler-effect-in-the-2012-election

If you really want to change the world, start by holding your nose and vote Dem--vote strategically, not emotionally; vote the platform, if not the person--to control the blast radius of this shit show of an election. Trump would be far far worse. Unconvinced? Read more at this link with some of Trump's Greatest Hits. https://www.facebook.com/notes/shay-moore/stop-trump-the-facts-part-1-war-and-human-rights-violations/10153920359189195

Then turn all your indignant energy (which believe you me, I share with you!) to changing from the ground up. That means election reform at your local level, voting for true progressives at every viable opportunity, pressuring your representatives for election reform, demanding third party organizations to get their shit together (Green Party, I'm looking at you and your lack of ANY respectable cohesiveness across the nation), and many other options that will actually make a difference.
( http://www.fairvote.com has you covered with ways to get involved.)

Why do you think Bernie, a man who has been in politics longer than some of us have been alive, has endorsed Hillary/the Democratic nominee? Because he already knows what every progressive needs to understand: the GOP nominee is a death sentence for all the values we hold dear. Bernie has put his energy behind the only other viable alternative at this time, because he understands how politics work, and he is doing what he must--what we *all* must--to do the most damage control. He knows endorsing anyone else or running third party will actually divide the vote, creating the spoiler effect, and get Trump into office.

If you ever believed in Bernie--his clear heart, his keen mind, and extensive experience in the real world of politics--you need to listen to him now. Our future depends on it.


Some links for further reading:
A three part series of Trump's Greatest Hits (ie why we need to keep this monster out at all cost, shared above but worth linking again in case you missed it)

Hillary is Fundamentally Honest & Trustworthy (despite what the rest of the media has been feeding you)

And don't miss this handy chart showing the most truthful and least truthful candidates. You won't be surprised who is the worst, but did you know who's among the best?

Fostering Pups!

by Wednesday, July 06, 2016
I have to say, now on our second (and third) foster experience, it has been great so far. We have been lucky, I think, with the animals who have come to stay with us. Layla was perfection, and it was really really really hard to let her go (twice!). But we stuck it out and got these two little muffins, Celeste (Cece!) and Oscar.

And I love them. Like, all over again I am madly in love.

Oscar is SO not the kind of dog I fall for, but he found his way into my heart immediately with his enthusiastic tail wagging, expressive face, and just plain BRAVERY! He was found tied to a freeway fence so tightly they had to cut the rope off. He was being stalked by large street dogs ready to attack, and was saved just in time. How an animal so cruelly abused and abandoned is so sweet and trusting...? He's just so freaking resilient and joyful, tons of personality, all in about a 6 pound body!

And Cece...who couldn't fall in love with her? Her exotic look with one brown eye and one bright splotted blue sucks you right in. She loves to play, but is also so mellow and loves to be held and cuddled, resting her head on your shoulder like you've known her all along, even if you just met her. She will curl up into a little fluffy ball and snore quietly as you pet her.

But the best part? I don't want to adopt them.

That sounds weird, I know, but hear me out. With Layla, we were so in love we wanted to keep her. Letting her go was misery because we could see her being a part of our family so comfortably. I was afraid that the future of fostering would go two ways: either we would love them and letting them go would be heartbreaking over and over, or we would not love them (or worse, have to actively harden ourselves to them) so we could let them go with happiness at finding them a new home. Well, it turns out that yeah, I can fall head over heels in love with these sweet furbabies AND can be excited to help find them a new forever home. It is a relief to know that I can be a foster who loves the animals entrusted to her. Because the alternative was bumming me out.

So news flash: love these pups! They are just the bees-knees! And I can't wait to get them adopted out so they can spread their magic to someone lucky enough to have them in their lives!

The Happy-Sad-Happy Tale of my Koa Kalane Uke

by Thursday, January 07, 2016
I will get to the story of the new uke soon, but there's a bit of back-story I haven't blogged about yet, and I should very much like to tell the whole tale...

THE TRIP
Back in October, my husband and I embarked on a trip to Hawaii for our friends' wedding in Kona/Captain Cook. I was thrilled to get to bring my little travel uke, my Makala Dolphin named Kalakala, along with me to actually play a ukulele in Hawaii! On a beach!
Kalakala, the Great Traveling Uke

So she came along, as she does, in my little purple carry-on. This picture was taken at the Kona airport as we arrived, ready to jam.

The wedding was beautiful, the entire wedding party as awesome as we would expect from two awesome people, and we had a fabulous time. I would play my uke every day, often on our lanai overlooking the Pacific ocean. I took her down to the beach cove by our hotel and played her quietly while Chris swam in the warm blue waters. Ya know, that kinda rough life.

I figured while I was in Hawaii, I really wanted to look into getting a local ukulele. Now "local", for me, can mean a lot of things. It could be something which had history there, perhaps a vintage one from a second hand shop; or a new one which has its roots there, either made there or finished there. I asked a uke seller at an outdoor market for a line on local stuff, and she gave me a couple recommendations, including a local custom luthier (too much $$ for this trip), as well as checking out a pawn shop which was practically walking distance from our hotel. Sadly my hunt couldn't begin immediately, as we had wedding shit to do. Like the fabulous wedding itself! Followed by a date with the wedding party and some snorkeling the following day.

My view from my towel, with the whole gang there.
On our first snorkeling day, we met up with everyone at the designated beach, and we snagged this perfect spot under the shade of a stand of palm trees. I snorkeled a while in the ocean, made friends with some little sea turtles and saw lots of beautiful fish. Back on land, I had a glass of wine and a snack, and then started strumming quietly as I sat on my beach towel near the group. Sometimes I was playing snippets of songs I know, and other times just playing with chord progressions and making my own improvised tunes. I stopped after a bit, thinking I was getting too repetitive and didn't want to disturb the family and friends nearby. As I did, one of the ladies turned around and asked me to keep playing because she was finding it to be just the perfect soundtrack to the beautiful Hawaiian day. The bride turned around at hearing this and said she thought she was just hearing distant ukulele music being played on a radio or something, and she was just wishing they hadn't turned it off because she was enjoying it so much! So I kept strumming on and off over the afternoon, just loving that I could not only play for my enjoyment, but well enough to bring a smile to our friends' faces, too. The memory alone makes my heart smile.

SHOPPING!
We started our hunt the next day at Da Hock Shop in Kailua. They had five or six ukes there in varying states of quality, most of which I recognized. But there was one there with that mysterious label with nothing more than "Koa Kalane" and a hotmail address on the label loosely glued inside the sound hole. We looked up the brand and the only real references to it were on a well-known ukulele forum, with people asking the same questions we were about where they come from and noting that they could be found at only a few places, among them the Kona Kmart. I couldn't imagine I was going to walk into a Kmart and walk out with a quality instrument, so we hit up a few more second hand shops before I shrugged and said why don't we at least go check them out.

Note case among souvenir snacks and hats!
We wandered the store a bit looking for a section with musical instruments. A sweet but dottering old woman who worked there said they didn't have any, but my husband suggested we ask a second opinion, and I'm glad we did. There was a guy unloading boxes who I snagged to ask, and he practically lit up to talk about the ukes they have. He is a local and said his father and uncle used to make ukuleles and the ones this store carries rival some that cost two and three times more. He says it is a "local guy" who makes them and only sells them at a few locations in the islands--no mass distribution, HI is the only place you'll really find his stuff so it's almost like a local secret. He offered to personally walk us up to take a look at them, which we gladly accepted.

As you can see from the picture, they are in the "souvenir" section up front at this Kona Kmart. Like, among the cheesy gifts you bring home for coworkers--cheap towels and plastic leis line the aisles, but at the back corner is a glass case. Within it, a selection of 6-7 different ukes including sopranos, concerts, and tenors. Some had inlay, some were cuataways, one had the turtle design etched multiple times across the top. All had gorgeous real wood grains, each with varying darkness of stains, so really the case was filled with over a dozen different beauties to try and choose from. All under $300, which was my hoped budget for this shopping trip. I woulda gone as high as $1000 if I fell in love, but $300 used was what I had hoped for...I didn't think I would get sub-$200 new of any quality...at a KMART?!

Long story longer, the guy had to get a manager to come open the case for me to handle them and choose which would be mine. He also knew just a little about them, but enough to know that those in the know in the area laugh when people go up the street to some music centers and pay exorbitant prices for ukes when you can get these local hand-made ones for this price. He says since they are hand made, they encourage people to take their time choosing, since even between the same styles you are going to get different sounds. And boy was he right. I didn't bring my tuner and most of them were understandably wildly out of tune, but the manager even helped me try to tune a few of them to at least sound more similar in pitch so I could suss out which tone I liked better. I kept apologizing for taking up so much time, but he kept encouraging me to take my time and find the best one for my taste.

I was torn. I wanted three of them!! But in the end, I chose a tenor cutaway which had a warm tone I couldn't resist. It even came with Aquilla strings and a padded zipper case of decent quality with the Koa Kalane logo stitched on it. I was so happy to have it, and just laughing internally that I was going to go home and tell everyone I bought my new local Hawaiian uke...at the Kmart. Here is the result of my demanding hubby take a photo of my triumphant pose with her out in front of the "Big K" sign for kicks.


SOMETHING'S NOT RIGHT
I played her a little on the trip, but not much since we were heading home 24 hours later. Then once home, we both had incredible sinus infections which sent us to urgent care and laid us both up, literally, for nearly a month after we got back from our vacation. So other than some pathetic plunking at it out of a desperate desire to get to play, I didn't get much time with it until late November. Which is when I noticed I was getting some buzzing on the G string, and maybe a little on the A string? I wasn't sure if it was the power of suggestion, since in the very limited posts about this brand uke, someone else had reported buzzing. I also did some research and was pretty sure the action was too high (strings high off the fret board), but dismissed my concerns as those of a fledgling who doesn't know what the hell she was talking about. Ultimately, I really wasn't enjoying the sound of my ukulele at all and didn't pick it up much, vowing to bring it to Dusty Strings to get it set up properly. But holidays struck, and another bout of illness, and it wasn't until the new year I even got out to get it checked out.

Skip to yesterday. I head to Dusty Strings. They are closed, on this single day all year, for inventory! I am about to slam my head into a wall with frustration when a nice man at the door asks me if I am there for a private lesson. I said no, it is for an evaluation on my uke, and the angel that he is, he took me inside and went back to see if the luthiers were willing to take a look at it and give me an estimate today. Relieved, I came inside and he asked me what was up. I told him about hearing what seemed to be buzzing, but admitted I am far from experienced and could be just my playing, so I brought it to them to examine. He played it a bit and nodded. "On the G string?" Yep, I confirmed, feeling validated that I was not insane. He took it to the back and I took a seat.

About 15-20 minutes later he comes out to deliver the bad news. He told me if I looked down the neck of the ukulele, I could see a leeeetle bowing on the right (top) side of the fret board. I peered at it and while barely perceptible, yes it was definitely there. "You bought this in Hawaii, did you?" he asked, having guessed the answer already as I nodded. He explained that this is a common problem with ukes made/purchased in Hawaii. You are purchasing an item made of wood from a humid climate and bringing it back to a comparatively dryer climate. The result is that the wood then starts to contract from drying out more than it is used to back in the tropical climate. With the fretboard being a different wood than the neck, they contract at different rates. Since they are glued together, this causes the fretboard to curve/bow from the contraction and pressure underneath.

The additional bad news is that the usual solution, shaving down the bowing spot, is impossible due to the thinness of the fretboard on this particular uke. And the alternative, which would be to basically take the entire thing apart and replace the necessary components, would cost me 2-3X the purchase price of the uke in the first place (around $450 minimum). To add insult to injury, I was also right that the action is really high on this instrument, but they can't fix that either because it will just make the buzzing worse since the strings will bottom out on that warped section of the fretboard.

He was super nice and sympathetic, chatting me up about this problem across ukuleles, guitars, and other stringed instruments, and what a frustration it can be. He complimented the instrument otherwise, saying the cut of the wood was top notch, the warmth of tone is lovely, and otherwise it is a really good quality instrument. He said he played it a bit with the repair team, and the buzzing isn't the worst they ever heard, and if I can get past it, it's a good "messing around" instrument. Though notably, he also added that it's so pretty it will even look good as a showpiece hanging on a wall. "A pretty souvenir," I grumbled sadly with a smirk as he nodded. Little did he know the inside joke: that I had, after all, picked it up in the souvenir section of a Kmart...

Home I went, head hung low to report back to my husband that my joyful Hawaiian acquisition is a bust. He actually offered to pay the exorbitant amount to repair it if I really wanted to preserve this ukulele, but I told him it wouldn't be the same ukulele when they were done with it if they did the replacements anyway. I would rather just set my sights on a new uke in the future, and let this one be a pretty one to look at, pull out at parties for people to play with, that kind of thing. He was sad for me, but supportive.

THE GOOD NEWS
This morning I spent some time doing some paperwork and answering mails. As a distraction I decided to pop over to Craigslist, as I do sometimes, and see what ukuleles are for sale in the area and what prices they are selling for. My eyes latch onto a sassy cherry red concert uke. I read about it, but there wasn't much detail. It's a good price for a Kamoa...and she's reeeeeally pretty. So I casually send an email asking details on the history of the instrument, expecting I wouldn't hear back for a day or two--enough time for me to "cool off". Instead, within minutes I get a mail back, and the guy says he is selling it just because hasn't played it much. He's had it about a year, it's in great condition. And he lives about 10 minutes away from me. And is home today if I want to check it out. I close the mail to try and put it to rest for now, not allowing myself to be too sorely tempted to try and buy a ukulele spur of the moment. It's so soon after I "lost" my last one...

A couple minutes later I get another mail. He wrote that he just realized we spoke before about this very uke. He had it for sale a few months ago, and I had written back then to inquire about it, but he had told me it sold. Turns out the friend who was going to buy it off of him never did buy it, so he put it back up for sale. And to boot, he put it up for sale at the lower price I happened to offer in my initial mail back a few months ago (about $25 cheaper than his original asking price).

Today.

Of all days.

It's the only ukulele I have ever sent an inquiry about on Craigslist, though I have looked at many over the last year just to peruse. And then I find I have inquired about it twice. And it's discounted even more. FATE?

So I send hubby a cloying message online, telling him my little tale...leaving it conspicuously open-ended. "So what are you proposing?" he asks pointedly. I tell him I may want to check it out. He says cool. I say the price. He says cool. I say the seller has invited me to check it out today. He says he'll come with me.

And that, as they say, was that.
The crazed eyes of a ukulele addict


Welcome the newest member of my ukulele family. She's my first concert, and first uke set up with Low G tuning. She RESONATES. My sassy new lady.

Don't judge. Even you can't deny...it was fate!!


Crab Fettucine

by Monday, January 04, 2016
1 Dungeness crab, cooked, cleaned, meat carefully removed
2 servings fettuccine, cooked
2 Tbsp butter
1 shallot, small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Old Bay seasoning
salt
pepper
fresh basil, chiffonade


Melt butter over medium heat

Sweat shallots, then add garlic and cook a minute or two

Add cream, keep over medium/medium-high heat and reduce 3-5 minutes.

Toss in white wine and continue to reduce 3-5 more minutes. Toss in most of cheese, reserving some for sprinkling on top later.

Add seasonings to your liking, add basil chiffonade, reserving a little back for garnish, and stir through.

Stir in crab, reserving a fry leg or two for garnish. Heat through

Toss with pasta. Split between plates. Stack reserved crab, sprinkle with reserved Parmesan, top with sprinkling of reserved basil chiffonade.






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On this blog I share my personal posts about cooking and knitting, travel and other musings; while I will blog about dance-specific topics over on the Deep Roots Dance blog:
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