Sunday, May 29, 2016

#67 - Unexpected Rocking Out

I had no parameters on what sort of a concert that I wanted to attend when I wrote my goals.  I was open to classical, stadium rock, high school band ... basically anything that came my way.  An opportunity in the form of an invitation to see a tribute band play this weekend easily fulfilled the requirement.  So, last night, I attended a concert by Hotel California - an Eagles tribute band.  Ironically, the Eagles played the only stadium concert that I have ever attended thus far in my life, and I attended both concerts with the same person.  It made for an evening of comparisons between the two experiences.

Hotel California was in a much smaller venue, so I could actually see the musicians from where I was sitting.  And, thankfully, although it was loud, I didn't feel the full body buzz for several hours afterwards that comes from being exposed to an extremely loud environment.  They have some very talented musicians - particularly on guitar.  I think that the solo guitar rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was my favorite piece of the night.  I was a little disappointed that the set list was heavily slanted towards the Eagles' earlier work and didn't include many solo or post reunion pieces.  There was even one piece that I don't think I've ever heard before (my friend said it was from a less popular album).  But there were also lots of favorites that I expected to hear, and I had a really good time. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

#22 - Light hearted murder

This is the mystery of the evening - box, a clue book, and the business card that one of the characters brought to promote her fictitious business.

I don't always invite my friends over for a murder... but when I do, we always have a good time!

I love taking part in murder mystery dinners - as writer, as host, as unwitting participant - they are so much fun.  However, it can be a little challenging to make everything work smoothly.  Writing one takes a large chunk of time, so I like to use the kits.  However, these pre-boxed sets are generally written for couples, and I have a  ton of great girlfriends (not all of whom have an associated partner who is willing to come along).  Last night, I used a women's only game from a company that I found on the internet (note: I purchased this several years ago, and they do not seem to be selling online any longer) - this allowed me to be in the dark about the murderer as well.

If you have not tried this sort of game, here's the general outline:
  • there's a theme - essentially a reason for all of the outlandish characters to get together.  Last night, the theme was contestants in a reality bachelor show type of contest trying to convince a prince to wed.
  • each character has a name that reflects their background, goals, or other personal trait.  For example, I was playing Destiny Wilbemyne - an aspiring singer/songwriter looking for her big break despite her lack of talent.
  • each character has a personal agenda of why they wanted the murder victim out of the way
  • the game starts with a message / statement / announcement that the victim has been murdered and the players are the suspects.
  • then there are several rounds of clues - those you try to keep hidden and items that you reveal about other characters as they try to defend themselves.  This is the main part of the game as you try to figure out motives and opportunities. 
  • finally, characters read (in ascending order from least opportunity / motive to the killer) a final epilogue that reveals how the crime happened
Clare (the wealthy black widow), Destiny (the star to be), Wanda (the royal do-gooder), and Lacey (the wedding planner)
I usually serve a course of food with each round.  Last night, I used the conceit that the 18 course feast promised by the prince's caterers was unexpected cut short when he died and only the first 3 courses of appetizers and a dessert had been finished.  Really, I had been looking for an opportunity to try lots of different appetizer recipes at once to get some feedback, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Our menu was:
First course (Dips):
Individual Seven Layer Dip Cups - recipe from this site
Fiesta Dip
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
The last strawberry tart
Vegetable Crudites
Blue Corn Chips
Cheesy Phyllo Crackers - recipe from this site
Pita Chips
Whole Grain Crackers
Cheese Tray

Second Course (Cold Appetizers):
Devilled Eggs
Buffalo Chicken Pinwheels - recipe from this site
Prosciutto wrapped dates stuffed with feta

Third Course (Hot Appetizers):
Sausage Cheddar Balls
Pepper Poppers
Ham & Cheese Spirals - recipe from this site

Individual White Chocolate and Strawberry Tarts

Doing this recipes many did make my kitchen a disaster zone by the end of the evening, but I would make any of them again.  I was taking a bit of a gamble on trying 7 brand new recipes in one party; however, the guests pronounced themselves stuffed (in the best of ways) by the end of the evening.

The evening was great fun - three of us (including myself) did figure out who the murderer was.  Some of my favorite moments from the evening were - singing (as badly as only Destiny could) several of the clues, Jade's side stories about the lamb-ahs (llamas) on her daddy's Texas ranch, Goldie's waitress wedding dress costume, Lacey's insistence on the need for ruffles and descriptions of the weddings that she had helped to plan, etc.  My friends are so clever and had great costumes and props - I, unfortunately, did not take many photos - the off-the-cuff remarks were often much funnier than the actual written clues.  I look forward to the next party because I was reminded of how much fun I have with these games.
Mary (the self-help guru), Goldie (the waitress), and Clare

Sunday, May 1, 2016

#68 - It's good to help

Kiva is a crowd-sourced funding site that I had learned about from my sister Diana.  I must admit that I find crowd-sourcing intriguing.  I am a big user of Kickstarter and will occasionally contribute to Indiegogo campaigns.  However, I'm not a user of Gofundme.  If you are familiar with these sites, you will know that although you may get something back from your contribution (for example, a product or t-shirt), the funds that are received by people through the sites are not expected to be repaid in dollars.

Kiva works a little differently.  When you make a contribution, you are actually helping to fund a microloan which the recipient is expected to repay (the interest, repayment schedule, and other details vary from one loan to the next).  When the loan is repaid, the money goes into a Kiva account for you which you can use to fund another project or request to have the funds put into your bank account.  In effect, you become a very small lending institution with all of the paperwork handled behind the scenes.

For this goal, I decided that I would donate / loan $100 as a starting point.  (I use the term donate because when the loans are repaid, I plan to keep the money going back out to other projects.)  Over the last week, I've been looking at projects and chose four for funding at a $25 apiece level.  I wanted to spread the money around, so I managed to find a mix of projects and areas of the world where I can help.  My first four loans went to:
  • purchasing a water pump and filtration system for a school in Uganda so that the students and teachers would have access to drinking water during the school day
  • helping a group of five women in India expand their individual businesses that pay for each family's living expenses
  • buying basic tools for a trained blacksmith in Palestine so he can set up his own forge as a second source of income 
  • allowing a restaurant in Haiti to add small food carts that will create additional jobs in the community

Searching for projects was a big reminder of how fortunate I am.  Though it was tempting to fund campaigns that would make a family's life more comfortable (through simple things like financing a latrine for their dwelling), I tried to find projects that had the potential to create something positive for the entire community where they were located.  I look forward to seeing how the process continues and sending the money out again on additional loans.