D&D Game Day

An elaborate dungeon setup, originally uploaded by Benimoto

Warning: nerd talk ahead!

I've been DMing 4e Dungeons and Dragons, on and off, with various family members for about a year now. I enjoy running these games, but I've also been anxious to try playing from the other side of the table. Last weekend I got my chance during Worldwide D&D Game Day.

I invited my youngest brother and his girlfriend (my two most consistent players) to join me at The Source so that we could play together. After a hilarious sequence of events, I arrived late, with only two open spots remaining. I signed up, sat down, and then... they were nowhere to be found. They were waiting for me to show up before they registered. Ironically, if they had, then I wouldn't have been able to participate. Instead I bumped them out. Too bad about that, but on to the game!

We played through three encounters in as many hours with a group of six PCs and one DM. Playing one role was a much more relaxing experience than orchestrating an entire game world while keeping tabs on everyone else. With a full group I also got a feel for the intended application of different class types, and understood why combat is so awkward with only two or three PCs. Overall, I had a blast, and I hope to do it again soon!

One Year Ago

Natalie, originally uploaded by craftstravaganza

The 5th Annual Craftstravaganza is approaching fast, faster than I realized. It always seems so far away until, BAM, it's just around the corner. I'm excited to get started and then drag in the middle. Hopefully I can shake off months of lethargy and sprint to the finish line.

Yesterday afternoon we returned to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds for our annual site inspection. We like to preview the building, note any changes, and plan accordingly. Of course last year was the first time that Natalie accompanied us (outside of the womb) and I was suddenly struck by how much she has changed since then.

She was just a wee babe in 2009, happy to be carted around in her stroller, and taking frequent naps. On this visit she took off into the big empty building, running and shouting and climbing, boldly dashing around corners out of sight. Even after she slipped and smacked her head on the concrete she didn't allow herself to be held for long, fighting back tears so she could continue exploring. What a difference a year makes!

We Love Food

buttermilk scones (80), originally uploaded by fruitcakey

The weekend: I baked some scones with a recipe from the Joy of Cooking and they were not as good as the ones from Vegan With A Vengeance. What's up with that? Cream is supposed to make everything better.

For dinner Saturday I made our favorite mushroom and goat cheese frittata. It is always so good but since I had the time, I sliced the mushrooms thinly like the recipe says, and it came out even better than usual. On Sunday it was so beautiful outside that I had to grill. We used the leftover goat cheese on a pizza and cooked it over charcoal... delicious.

Jenna made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies that should last us a few weeks. Plus I started preparing our second batch of homemade ice cream. Anyway, I really like making and eating food, that's all.

Day of Prayer: Sext

St. John's Abbey, originally uploaded by axoboy

At noon we returned to the abbey church along with the monks for midday prayer. I didn't know all the Catholic catch-phrases or cross myself at the right times, but it didn't matter. In my few short hours there, I had relaxed into the routine enough to feel more like an active participant instead of a tourist, as I had in the morning.

Afterward we returned to the guesthouse for lunch, more discussion, and another group lectio divina. Far too quickly, the day was over. I promised our monk to pay online and said goodbye.

One member of our group is a St. John's University graduate who returns to the abbey frequently for retreats, and I understand why. Overall, the Benedictine Day of Prayer was a fantastic experience. I would love to participate in another. In fact, I wish I could be there for all of them!

Day of Prayer: Wandering

Cantilever, originally uploaded by Captain Tenneal

During our breaks between scheduled activities, I used my time to wander around the abbey and explore nearby. The students were away on spring break so campus was almost entirely deserted. The leisurely unguided walking reminded me of my adventures in Japan, stumbling around old temples, shrines, and gardens.

The abbey church itself is beautiful and has an interesting architectural history. I spent most of my time there. But when I heard the monastic library across the street had pages on display of the St. John's Bible, I moseyed over there at the first opportunity.

The St. John's Bible is the first illuminated Bible in over 500 years. I was aware of the project, and I had seen some reproductions of the work before (there were a few high-quality prints on display at the guesthouse too). But it was entirely different to see the original artwork, on vellum, with the bright ink and gold leaf shining under the display lights. I highly recommend seeing them if you get a chance... and if you're in Minnesota, now is your chance to see them, as part of an exhibition of The Dead Sea Scrolls at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Day of Prayer: Our Group

Koya-San Buddhist Monk Statues, originally uploaded by j0rune

The monk who assisted us during prayer stayed with us as a guide through the rest of the day. After we finished with the morning prayer service, he led us out of the chapel and to the abbey guesthouse. We ate a wholesome breakfast and got to know each other a bit.

If I remember correctly, the monk's name was Fr. Simeon Thole. He was warm and friendly, quick to smile, and open to conversation. He was also willing to debate and discuss difficult topics. In short, he was everything I expected a monk to be.

We were joined by one other man during prayer, which made us a group of five in total. I heard this is an average turnout for these events. After a discussion about Lent and a group session of lectio divina, we were set free for two hours of personal time until the midday prayer.

Day of Prayer: Lauds

Abbey Church HDR, originally uploaded by Captain Tenneal

We were seated for morning prayer (or Lauds, if you want to get fancy) in the center right of the choir stalls. Our monk showed us what order to read from the books laid out in front of us, and then we were on our own. Luckily I had read a brochure on Navigating the Liturgy while I waited, which helped me to put a framework around the proceedings.

One of the warnings in the brochure was, "the pace of recitation at Saint John's is fairly slow and deliberate. Please listen to and follow the pace set by the monks. Guests sometimes tend to go faster than the monks." Good advice! I was careful not to jump ahead, and enjoyed the unhurried tempo of the readings.

After each reading there was also a long pause (I later learned that these 1 to 2 minute breaks were inserted for reflection on what had just been said). The first time it happened, I panicked a little. "Am I missing something? What's going on?" Soon I had adjusted to the pace and was able to relax into the silence.

Day of Prayer: Getting There

St. John's Abbey by Marcel Breuer architect, at Collegeville, Minnesota, 1953 to 1961, originally uploaded by studioloraine

I was up at four thirty and out the door by ten to five for the predawn drive to Collegeville. It wasn't until I was leaving the cities at about twenty after that I realized I'd forgotten my wallet at home. I checked the gas gauge, slowed way down to conserve fuel and then started my day of prayer early, with me asking God to get me there and back on less than half a tank of gas.

Participation costs money too, and I was nervous that they might not even let me in, but I needn't have worried. I found the Abbey Church easily and with plenty of time to spare. After parking, I took a quick walk around the campus and found this quote on a post outside:
"All guests who present themselves are to be received as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

I was early enough to peer into the empty chapel and watch a monk enter, silently light two candles in the front of the church, and then shuffle off again into the darkness. I returned to the entry and gathered with three other participants. The bells began to ring as the time for prayer approached. A little while before it was time to begin the morning service, a monk greeted us, and led us up to the choir section to pray with the community.

Benedictine Day of Prayer

Sun Hive, originally uploaded by Edith OSB

I have wanted to visit a Christian monastery for a while, and Lent seems like a good time to do it. After all, this period of the liturgical year is supposed to be characterized by prayer, penitence, and asceticism. Who better than an monk to exemplify these virtues?

So today I will be rising early and leaving home at 5:00 for the drive out to St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Today is one of four Benedictine Days of Prayer in 2010. On these days, the monks welcome "men and women of all faiths" to join them for a spiritual conference, lectio divina, silent reflection and prayer.

I am excited for this visit but not for any particular outcome. Although I have read many books on monasticism and one of my favorite authors (Thomas Merton) was a monastic, I'm trying to clear my mind of all preconceived notions going in. I will write about my experience afterward.

Mpls Indie Xpo comic by John Allison

I lifted the name of my comics festival from cartoonist John Allison. He is the best at comics in the UK and possibly the world. John drew the comic from which I excerpted the panel above, and it was that very strip, which convinced me to create the show in the first place. Just as reading an article about Bazaar Bizarre prompted me to found the Craftstravaganza, reading this comic was my flashbulb moment when I thought, "why not here? Why not me?" And committed to doing an indie comics expo on the spot.

Anyway we opened online registration this week, and I duly announced the opportunity to our Twitter followers and mailing list subscribers. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Within a day we had filled a third of our available tables and artists were enthusiastically sharing the news.

I was thrilled to see the groundswell of support from local cartoonists. I absolutely geeked out, though, when I saw MIX being discussed on Twitter by R. Stevens (of Diesel Sweeties fame) and John Allison himself. Whether or not they actually attend, catching the attention of two of my favorite comic artists was a personal high for me.

I'll be a Monkey's Uncle

Golden monkey, originally uploaded by floridapfe

We had a very food-centric weekend, but we did do other things beside eat. I think the 40 degree heat wave put an end to my hibernation. When I wasn't cooking I was cleaning, doing laundry, and being generally more useful around the house than normal.

We also spent a few hours at Como zoo and conservatory, and even shopped for baby clothes and jeans at the mall. But the biggest news of all is that we have a new nephew! My first nephew, in fact, joining the two nieces that we already have on Jenna's side of the family. All in all, a very exciting couple of days.