OmegaCon Spring 2014

I’m sitting in a large hotel room in Siren, Wisconsin eating a luxoriously hoity-toighty picnic of rice-stuffed grape leaves, Molinari Finocchiona salame, and a variety of fancy cheeses – Gorgonzola, Huntsman, St. Angel and Brugge Rodenbach. This is all courtesy of the local wine and cheese shop that we stopped at on the way out of Minneapolis on Friday evening. The Hubby and I are sharing the hotel room with two friends – another couple who has made the two hour journey northeast to this teensy little town in the middle of not-much-of-anywhere. It’s the site of the biannual relax-a-con, OmegaCon.

A relax-a-con is a convention that doesn’t have much going on in the way of programming. It’s a gathering of friends who have come together to enjoy each other’s company, play board games, eat food and drink, sit around a bonfire, share a game at the minigolf course next door or do some arts and crafts.

So relaxing we are. Well – now that the packing is done:

Eight bags of luggage are stacked high in a hallway.

Bags for two people for a “relax”-a-con – food, boardgames, robe, slippers, swimsuits, spare clothes, laptops, books and magazines. I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Last night we arrived, registered and started right in. At OmegaCon you color your own con badge. There’s a huge table covered in all the marker colors.

A hand-colored badge. Text says "OmegaCon Spring 2014 #220 Brianne" A stylized Grumpy Cat outline has been colored in to have green eyes, gray-tipped tail and ears, and bloody claws.

We said some hellos and made our way to the ConSuite, where I availed myself of a unnecessarily strong glass of whiskey and coke. To conclude the drinking portion of the evening I was a guest on the podcast Xtreme Tasting League: ScotchI had won the guest spot at a silent auction, and even though I have not one scotch-knowledge credential, I decided to give it a go. Because scotch is yummy. Ever the considerate guest, I brought a bottle of scotch along as a gift to my hosts. They decided to use it as one of the tastings on the podcast, and to my chagrin it sucked beyond any other bottle of single malt scotch that I’ve ever had. Ever the considerate guest, I reminded my hosts that I had brought the bottle to them as a gift, and so I couldn’t possible dream of taking the rest of it home with me.

After that I was pretty much done with alcohol, and I headed downstairs to play a few board games: A round of 7 Wonders, and a hour-long card game called Zar that had me and four others shouting, laughing and eventually shutting down the game room. We all stumbled off to bed at about 4am.

This morning started with a reluctant, slightly hungover jog around the local neighborhoods. It was too beautiful and sunny to pass up the run. And I found out why the hotel is called the Lodge at Crooked Lake:

2014-04-26 10.27.121

I wasn’t the only one running this morning; three other badasses went out and ran 10 miles. They’re all prepping for a half-marathon. Geeky athletes FTW!

After that some breakfast, a little time in the hot tub and pool, and then back into the game room. Today I’ve played a party game called Anomia, Legendary – a deck builder set in the Marvel universe, a bidding game called For Sale, and King of Tokyo. My giant robot cyber bunny totally rocked it and beat out the other three monsters.

Game pieces for Kind of Tokyo are laid out - decks of cards, stand-up cardboard monsters, dice and small green cubes.

After gaming there was lunching, then napping, then more gaming. I’m set to do another round of Xtreme Tasting League: Scotch this evening around 10pm, and this time I’m planning on being 100% *glances at the glass of gin and tonic on the bedstand* 90% sober for the recording. I think I’ll actually try to taste the scotches that we’re tasting this time.

And then, if past OmegaCon experiences repeat, we’ll be up until the sun comes up playing more board games. Oh…and they keep the hot tub open 24 hours for us. So that’s going to happen.

It’s a good weekend.

From the Draft Bin: Moving Mom

It’s amazing to me how much writing I do that gets thrown out, abandoned, forgotten or taken out back with a shovel and buried. I have written volumes will never, ever see the light of day or be stored anywhere on a computer. These are the cathartic writings, the nonsensical, the mopey drunk poetry, the overly passionate or sappy, the erotic, the angry screaming devoid of logic, the hurt, pathetic whining. The ugliness, the ecstasy, the doubts, the fragile dreams, the hate – these that are or have been part of my human experience have lived here. These are mine – creations that are rarely revisited, if they are saved at all.

I have a relationship with writing – it is there with me through the good times, the horrible times, and the bored, listless times. When I don’t know where to turn, I have writing. When I am in agony I can write, and almost blindly the pain flows from my fingers onto the page. Afterwards I still hurt, but the pain is now a thing that can be examined from an outside perspective. I have wielded my writing skillfully and clumsily; it has been my salvation, and once my damnation. I love writing – and just now I refuse to not be romantic about it!

But there are also the more generic false starts – or the true starts left incomplete. There are articles started with the best of intentions that grow obsolete in the fast-paced environment of instant communication. There are events that I have attempted to describe, but upon editing I felt that I failed to capture them adequately, truly or objectively. There are writings that I have doubted would be well-received in a public venue. There are articles that I wanted to write, started to write, but in the end was unsure of how to bring everything together.

What I’m saying is…I have a lot of shit in my draft folder.

And while I was digging around in there, I found this one about the first leg of last year’s adventure in moving mom out to Maryland. I like the photos of the planes. I think it stayed in draft because I had lofty dreams about capturing the entire move. But that’s okay.

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Last Wednesday began the great cross-country adventure of moving Mom to Hagerstown, Maryland. My contribution to the entire process was pretty minimal. Mom had nearly everything packed by the time I arrived on Wednesday, and she had hired movers to pack everything in a truck, get it to Maryland, and bring everything into the new house. I showed up on Wednesday, did some light cleaning at the old house, helped wrangle animals and drive the 13 hours east, ran some errands in Hagerstown, hung out with Mom and my sister, gave my brother-in-law a hug and then flew back home on Sunday.

That’s the TL;DR version. On a more leisurely note:

I flew down to southern Illinois on Wednesday morning. The waking up at 4:30am for the 7:05am flight kinda sucked, but I enjoy plane travel and being in airports so the suckiness was offset by travel excitement. There are no direct flights to Carbondale, IL. When I have flown down in the past, I have landed in St. Louis, Missouri and then either driven a rental car from the airport or been picked up by Mom. However, the drive from St. Louis to Carbondale is about two hours, and because time and resources were precious this time I did something different.

Cape Air runs a short distance plane service between St. Louis and smaller airports in Illinois. For $50 I was able to book a flight on a “puddle jumper” from St. Louis to Marion, Illinois, which is only a 20-minute drive from Carbondale.  It was a neat process. When I exited my plane from Minneapolis, I had to find a courtesy phone and let an agent know that I had a Cape Air connection. A driver was sent over to where I had made the call, and then I and one other person were escorted down to a shuttle on the tarmac and driven over to the Cape Air gate. We had a chance to see parts of the airport that I usually don’t see.

Cape Air Cesna planesThe planes parked outside of the Cape Air gate.

The plane that I would board, headed for Marion, IllinoisLook at this little Cessna! It’s cute ‘cuz it’s tiny!

Flying in the Cessna was a blast. Only I and one other passenger were on my flight. When it came time to board we were led across the tarmac and climbed on board the small plane. The captain said to sit wherever we wanted in the eight- (or was it ten?) seat cabin, so I sat in the row directly behind the copilot’s chair and was able to see the entire instrument panel. This was the first time I have seen someone actually fly a plane. It was awesome to watch the pilot steer with the yoke and rudder pedals, move the throttle levers during takeoff, and to see the controls and indicators adjust with the movements of the plane when we were in the sky.

When we landed in Marion I was met by my Aunt and Uncle, of whom I see far too little. They drove me directly to Carbondale and delivered me to the chaos that was churning at Mom’s soon-to-be-sold house. They left almost immediately, and I promised that we would stop by their house to say goodbye before we left town. The atmosphere at the house was explosive. Four moving people were hauling the last of boxes and heavy furniture to the moving truck. Mom was rushing to pack the last of the recently-used necessities, and all of the rooms contained bits and pieces that needed to be collected – the detritus that is unearthed when one moves furniture that hasn’t been moved in years: paper clips, lost storage bin lids, an old photo, loose change, dust bunny-covered pens, and so on.

I began collecting and sweeping and mopping. The owners did their final walk-through, but last minute packing and cleaning kept us much later than intended. We had to leave from the house and drive directly to the next town over for the closing, which meant we ran out of time for goodbyes to my aunt and uncle. *sniff* We left from the title company and immediately began the road trip east.

The North Shore Trip

This past weekend the Hubby and I drove up to the North Shore, and we ended up cramming in a lot of activities. On Friday I had to work a half day, and that afternoon before we left the Cities, we took in the Minnesota History Center’s Prohibition exhibit. I did some museum tweeting, which you can see on Storify by clicking the image below. 

storifyprohibition

Then we drove 2.5 hours north on Highway 35 to Superior, Wisconsin, which is right across the river from Duluth, Minnesota. We checked into our hotel and I was ready to crash, but we somehow managed to drag our butts out to see The Monuments Men. It was awesome and totally worth the putting on of pants. [Read more...]

I’m On A Bus

With the first modest snowfall coming down in the Twin Cities yesterday, I have now switched to bus commuter mode. I like taking the bus to and from work because it gives me an excuse to be online for an hour before starting my day. And because smaller carbon footprint. And because when the roads are slick I don’t have the stress of driving on them. And because it gives me a morning walking routine; the bus stop is 3/4 mile away.

But mostly it’s the interwebs. Most of the fleet that serves the commuter lines have upgraded to include free wifi.

Wide view of the front of a bus taken by a passenger.

The morning westbound bus is always more full than the evening eastbound. I work out in the boonies and the route is very industrial park-specific, so there are only three morning pick-ups from my neighborhood and they all tend to be full. But I often take the last bus of the evening in from Chaska to Minneapolis, so I have never had to seat-share on the way home. It’s easier to use the laptop when I don’t have to seat-share because I like to flare my elbows out when I type. I have never been good at writing on a cell phone or iPad, preferring to either dictate or get all old-fashioned with pen and paper.

Today one of the fluorescent lights or fans is rattling in the vicinity of the seat behind me. It sounds so much like fapping that I actually peeked into the seat behind me to make sure that the sound was, in fact, coming from the bus. Ah, I did miss public transportation.

Last of the Vacay Writing

It’s time to catch up with the last several days of the big vacation! I left off with Wednesday’s night snorkel. For those just joining, the Hubby and I spent two weeks in Caye Caulker, Belize with our friends who live on the island, Dave and Noelle.

Thursday, May 9th

On Thursday it was my birthday! I magically turned into a crotchety old lady of 34; the transformation was amazing, I tell ya. To celebrate we went on a full day snorkel at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve with French Angel Snorkeling. I already posted the video of the loggerhead turtles that Noelle and I saw, but we did so much more than that! On the boat ride out we saw seahorses, tarpon and a huge pod of dolphins. After we saw the sea turtles we made our way over to a deeper part of the reef, and that’s where I had the HUGE FUN! The ocean floor was about 30 feet down and I free dove all the way to the bottom! Later there was a coral tunnel that the guide showed us that was about 20 feet down from the surface. The tunnel was only about eight feet long by about four feet in diameter but it was a real thrill (and a bit of a squeeze!). I went through twice and both times there was a school of large grunts hanging out as I went through. It was really magical.

Dolphins

Dolphins! There were at least twelve, including one very curious calf! [Read more...]

Night Snorkeling

Wednesday was a very slow day. All of us – me, the Hubby, Noelle and Dave – were feeling a bit ill from Tuesday night’s dinner. We think it was the slow-cooked black beans – they were undercooked and I found a couple of websites warning about the toxin phytohaemagglutinin that is found in some beans. Whatever it was, there was trouble in paradise, and we spent much of the day lounging about the house and teasing Noelle about poisoning us.

By late afternoon we were all feeling better and so we ventured out to The Split for some food and swimming. The Split is the north point of Caye Caulker, and the party destination for tourists and islanders alike. We grabbed some food and drinks from the Lazy Lizard Bar. I had the house special, a Lizard Juice. Don’t ask me what was in it – it was frozen and alcoholic and it turned my tongue bright green, so I hear.

The snorkeling at the Split was kind of magnificent. There is a bunch of concrete and wood in the water that the fish have turned into nursing grounds. There were the ever-present grunts, but also parrotfish, tang, wrasse and a myriad of other brightly-hued fish.

[Read more...]

Belize Zoo and Cave Tubing

Tuesday was our second day of exploring the mainland. The Hubby, Dave and I took the water taxi in to Belize City and then met up with Jason again to go to the Belize Zoo and cave tubing. The zoo was our first stop.

The Belize Zoo is unique in that all of the animals are native to Belize, and are not fit to live in the wild – they’ve either been injured or abandoned or raised in captivity. For example, some people think that ocelet kitties are cute and fun pets…and then the kitties turn into big cats and become more than they can handle. So it’s part refuge/part educational facility. The signs for the animals are all hand-painted and deliver messages to the public about the animals. They work to dispel myths (such as harpy eagles do NOT eat human babies) and raise awareness about the environment and human-wildlife-environment interactions.

The cages provided a photography challenge: the mesh was very large, so unless the animals were farther away I couldn’t do that cool depth of field trick to blur out the cage. The animal environments were also very much geared to the animals – lot of hidey places out the gaze of prying tourist eyes and their annoying cameras. But we managed to find a few of them.DSC_0785

The paths between animal enclosures were either fine gravel or concrete. All of the enclosures were separated by forest brush and trees. [Read more...]

Jungle Ruins: Lamanai

One of the goals of the trip was to visit some ruins. We had plenty of options: Altun-Ha, Caracol, Cerros, Xunantunich – and those are just a few of the ruins that are known in Belize.

We ended up visiting Lamanai, an archeological site in Orange Walk District (northern Belize) that was occupied between the 16th century BCE to 17th century CE, with its heyday occurring several hundred years before and after the start of the Common Era.

01 Water TaxiOur trip started with a 45 minute water taxi from Caye Caulker to Belize City with Dave and Noelle.

[Read more...]

Scuba Diving: Esmerelda

FINALLY!

I was able to slip into scuba gear on Sunday. Dave and I signed up for the “Esmerelda” tour off of Ambergris Caye. According to the divemaster, Esmerelda is unique for its coral formations and wildlife – there are a bunch of finger-like protrusions that we swam over. During our two dives we were at 70 and 60ft, respectively, but the crevices went down much deeper.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m a novice recreational diver. Prior to Belize I had nine dives under my belt, and that includes the four certification dives that I took at Square Lake near Stillwater, Minnesota. I did four dives in Cozumel, which was similiar to the conditions I was expecting on Sunday, in terms of depth, visibility and temperature. And I most recently dove in the shallow, murkey, cold water of Rosario Beach in northern Washington State. That dive was in July of 2011, so it had been over a year since the last time I used scuba gear.

To prepare I reviewed my scuba textbook on the morning of the dive: buddy communication, basic breathing advice, air density at pressure, nitrogen narcosis and the bends, equipment, and dive tables. I looked up my old dives to remember how much weight to use on my belt. At 8:30am I gathered my c-card, fins, mask, snorkel and sunscreen, and Dave I rode down to Frenchie’s Dive Shop on Front Street.

We checked in with little fuss; Frenchie’s was thorough and professional in the information they gathered before assigning us gear. We put our BCDs and regulators on the tanks they gave us, tested the air flow and checked tank pressure. Then we boarded the boat and rode for 25 minutes out to the first dive site. About five minutes from our site, the boat stopped and the divemaster went over The Rules – descend with our buddy, meet at the bottom, then follow him. If you start to run low on air, ascend 10-15 feet, but stay with the group until the end of the tour if possible. Never go deeper or in front of him. Don’t touch nothin.

The dive staff helped us into our gear, then we did rolling entries into the water. I situated my mask and regulator, found my buddy and then we started down.

I have no photos for this trip. My underwater camera only has a depth of 23ft, and we were diving 70ft. I didn’t even bring it with. There was also no videographer/photographer with the dive staff, so no photos. Which is a shame because we saw some crazy awesome wildlife. As a concilation prize, I’ve linked to images from wikipedia or other sites that have pictures of the animals I saw.

One of the first things we saw as we descended were a bunch of very large nurse sharks. They were dark-colored and moved through the water with the slow grace that only a shark has. We were surrounded by fish of all sizes, shapes and colors. The reef rose up not too far from where we started. During the descent I felt a calm surround me and the magic of breathing underwater was as brilliant as I remembered from previous dives.

We had a small group – only eight of us altogether – and everyone was diving like the certified open water divers we were - everyone equalized well, there was no hyperventilators or trouble with buoyancy. There were also no braggerts or daredevils, which makes everything easy and happy.

We started by diving between two “fingers” of the reef. A morey eel came out to greet us, and not too long after we saw our first spotted eagle ray. We swam over a wall of the reef and saw a green turtle! We had nurse sharks with us at every turn, and saw huge parrotfish, angelfish and grouper. And then the gem of the dive: We saw Great A’Tuin.

Okay – it wasn’t A’Tuin (I didn’t see the elephants, that’s how I know), but it was the biggest damn loggerhead turtle that I have ever seen in my life. It was about the same length as me (I’m 5’7″) and its head was bigger than mine. I didn’t even spare us a glance as it glided by and over the reef. We continued on and when we ascended I still had 900 psi left in my tank – not bad for not having dove in over a year!

After the first dive we came into dock at San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, which is just north of Caye Caulker where we’ve been staying. Dave and I had some soda and juice at the Tacklebox bar while the dive staff switched in fresh tanks. After being on the surface for about 30 minutes, everyone lumbered back onto the boat and we rode about five minutes to our next site. It was pretty similar to the first, and not quite as good. We saw a couple more spotted eagle rays and the nurse sharks again, but I found the more interesting thing to be the landscape itself. We were stuck at 60ft for this dive, but the reef was much deeper than that, and I wanted to go down there! I wanted to explore the walls of the reef, and ever since I was a little tot swimming in the pool I’ve had a fascination with touching the bottom, which was not on the menu for this dive *pout*.

On the ride home we had a dolphin encounter! The captain spotted three dolphins and slowed the boat to a crawl. The dolphins started playing in front of the prow and jumping out of the water. Bonus!

I want more! I’ll have to check with Frenchie’s to see what other dives they have going out this week.