Why charity? And why cancer?

There was a video call for stories on Stephen Amell’s Facebook page. It was part of the 2nd anniversary of the Fuck Cancer campaign. I apologize in advance if you were looking for the “family friendly” version of the story, but that doesn’t exist. At least not for me.

Cancer has taken a lot from me. Mostly personal, and somewhat sharp in nature. Also, it has been throughout my life. It started just after I was born. It didn’t take my mother from us, but it did take any further siblings from my sister and I. Not that I knew any better, I was a baby when it happened. I can’t imagine what it put my parents through.

In July a few years back it took my father-in-law from us. Indirectly, as he already had a heart condition, but the cancer was getting worse and no doubt weakened him. My wife is the kind of person that remembers those dates. Every July was rough for her.

aladdinAbout a year and a half ago (also in July), cancer hit home again. This time it took our dog Aladdin. I know it seems odd to include him in this list, but he was my companion and our family’s protector and mascot for fifteen years. At sixteen years old, he was older than the twelve years that breed averages. And now I’m the kind of person that remembers those dates. July 17th, 2014. The first time I had to call and ask a doctor to euthanize my dog. I didn’t make the appointment for my childhood dog.

Losing him wasn’t just a direct hit for me, but it also screwed up my writing for at least a year. I felt like I lost something more than just a friend. So I gave to gain something back. I gave food to a dog shelter. We adopted a rescue dog from that same shelter. One that really needed a specific kind of home that we could provide. No young kids, and no other pets. And time. Additionally, we gave to cancer charities. Kids cancer, research, individual families dealing with the trials of cancer. All of it.

Last Christmas, during the first Sinceriously campaign I bought the original fuck cancer shirt for the family. My wife, son and I all have one. When the second one came around I bought in again. As I have for similar charities, such as the Extra Life campaign we just went through.

What does the Fuck Cancer Campaign mean to me? It is me telling cancer I have had enough. I have several friends and yet another family member dealing with cancer. Frankly, you can’t have them. Not if my donations and those of my friends and family have anything to say about it. It may only be a shirt here and a marathon there individually, but if enough of us stand up and say “No More”, it will be a deafening roar.

Prepping for November

Between reviews, writing, a new puppy and the day job website relaunching on a new service (which NEVER goes as well as they say it will), I have been out of the loop for a while. I’ve also been having problems bouncing back from the slump I hit over a year ago. I hadn’t factored how much the loss of my old man puppy would hit me. Now, I am looking to swing hard at this NaNoWriMo. Which means breaking the routine I have inadvertently set up at home.

This past week I brought home flowers from shopping for my wife. She asked me why and I told here there were a couple of reasons. First and foremost was that one simply does not get a Sweetests Day present for one lady in the house and not the other. It’s simply not done. (More on that later.) Additionally (and more to her liking) was that with about 10 days until her office Halloween party I figured the flowers would be good and wilted and just right for their party. Her department at work does Halloween in a huge way. I don’t get our Walking Dead string lights back until November.

naptime-gingerTo speak towards the questions that are out there… yes, we are strange people. Our Halloween decorations are our Christmas decorations. Which makes this time of year awesome for the woman in my Sunday gaming group with the fear of zombies. Also, yes… I did buy a Sweetests Day present for Ginger, our fox terrier rescue. To be fair, it was a set of scalloped foam stairs to make it less stressful for her to get up on the couch. (She has a knee joint problem she was born with.)

While they work great, I did find out I bought them a bit too big. Which means we put them up by the bed (we have a rather tall European pillow top mattress), and decided to get a smaller set of the same ones for the couch.

What does this have to do with NaNoWriMo? Everything. Because hopefully a present to make her days easier will keep her from getting cross with me for being out so much. Halloween weekend I am going to a Milwaukee area game con for a day, NaNoWriMo midnight that night, and then write-ins that Sunday. The next weekend I am running 12 hours or more of D&D each day at Gamehole Con. In addition to my 2k in words. Tesla Con is two weeks later. Between that will be our donation weekend push for NaNoWriMo. Then Thanksgiving. We’ll end with the wrap party in early December.

Keep in mind the Day Job™ is still there. As are my reviews. And the Sunday game group. (I have already told the Adventurers League guys I will not be running a table that month.)

franz-kafka-quotes-sayings-non-writing-writer-insanityWhat is the lesson to learn here? Especially for those new to NaNoWriMo? (Besides insanity being a benefit sometimes…) Time management is everything. This is a one month challenge. Out of college (for more years than I care to remember) I worked 80-90 hour work weeks between two full time jobs. My day off was Sunday going in to the bagel shop I managed in the morning until around 11am before driving off to my D&D game with a friend who was renting the other half of our duplex. It kept me sane. Well, sane-adjacent.

Can everyone do this schedule for the month? Probably not. But pushing the limits is what showed me that I was capable of doing it. Were I a corporate goon, I would likely be spouting off some leadership training nonsense like “work smarter, not harder.” But thankfully I am not. I will tell you thought to challenge yourself this coming month. Its the only way you can truly surprise yourself with what you are capable of.

See you all at the word wars, Halloween Night… midnight… central time zone.

Extra Life Marathon for Charity

D&D for Charity

This is the only marathon I really am able to do now, isn’t it? Also, this is a way to show the strength of the gaming community. Let’s face it, everyone can use good press once in a while. Not to mention cancer, children and pet related charities are my go-to’s. In the recent future I have gone from losing friends and family to cancer, to losing my dog to it. So this one is important to me.

Pegasus Games will be hosting our games this year. When available, we will be giving out certs for items given out in game. And the DMs will be running events as they have 4-7 players ready to sit down and roll. And if players are interested, we may do some of the long play or casual events through Adventurers League.

Each DM will be running events they are able to (have prepared for), mine will be going along the following list:
DDEX 2-4 Mayhem in the Earthspur Mines (L5-10)
DDEX 2-3 The Drowned Tower (L5-10)
DDEX 2-5 Flames of Kythorn (L1-4)

DDEX 2-8 Foulness Beneath Mulmaster (L1-4)

I could likely do others, and may based on interest. Additionally, if at least 5 people donate to get a seat running Out of the Abyss from the book for the entire day (minus meal breaks), I will do that. It is very sandbox in its design and is AL legal.

Donation Levels

  • a seat at a 4 hour block table: $5
  • a full day seat for Out of the Abyss $15 (we may run a little later than 8pm)
  • reroll an attack roll, skill check or saving throw (must take the new number) $1
  • standard healing (2d4+2): $1
  • make a weapon deal magical damage for the course of a fight: $2

Where to Donate

Donations can be entered on my Extra Life account. You can specify what they are for in your comments, or simply donate a set amount and use that as your “reserve pool” for the weekend. We will take donations on site as well.
You can also donate in support of the DMs that will be running events this weekend for the charity. If you are interested in running something, please let me know.

Reflections of the Full Week

Last night we were discussing the budget diet. An epiphany came in the form of even though our portions were fine, we felt more hungry. There are likely a couple of reasons for that…

I think we as individuals were getting to used to eating more than we might need in a given day. I know I was drinking more coffee than I needed nearly every day. I’d grown used to getting lunch at the food window in the stadium or at the corner market most days. If I was tired on the way home I might stop at a drive through or the BBQ place near our house. And ice cream at the end of the night usually sounded like a good idea.

why-the-treatsTaking one day as an example, I had a bowl of Honey Nut O’s (generic) with milk for breakfast (about 20 cents), a peanut butter sandwich with a banana for lunch (about 35 cents), and spinach risotto with black bean bake for dinner (around $1.50 at the portions I dished out. Which left me with just under $2 to put towards a different day, or to use for coffee beyond my allowance in the morning. At the end of the night though, I did choose to add another 10 cents to my spending for some more Honey Nut O’s while watching TV. (To be fair, someone insisted I share a couple.)

I looked at my coffee drinking and tried to figure out how I might incorporate it into my budget. I can use our french press without having to buy filters, which means for about 25 cents I can make the amount of coffee I get in the mornings if I go without cream. So between 25 to 40 cents a day for my morning coffee. Take a look at the $2.05 budget for the sample day, and this is totally possible. Especially on days when I don’t have meat. Were I inclined to do so (and I might be next week), I could reduce the daily budget to $3.60 a day and still get my coffee in the drive through. Since this isn’t fully about the money, I can pay for the convenience and deduct it from my total.

I also feel there is a psychology to it. We know we are eating off of less money than we used to spend on coffee so the subconscious message is we will be hungry. Additionally, when you’re looking at price per serving, you dish yourself out specifically one serving. Which in most cases means we eat less. Not that much less, but that lends into the perception of being denied something.

So I started this to gain a view of the possibilities to live off of that number. Additionally I was looking at if one could eat healthy off of those numbers. What I am finding is that if I can change my point of view, that will not only impact my budget, but also lead me to a healthier diet.

Though I’d still add the kale back into the risotto instead of the spinach.

First Week Musings

First and foremost, I think this is kind of a “soft opening” for my SNAP Challenge. I haven’t had the time to prep for it due to the surprise GenCon trip with Studio 6d6. Also, I forgot our camping trip this weekend with Saturday spent at the Bristol Ren Faire. While I could probably keep it in the $4 budget at the campsite, at the Ren Faire that would be impossible. I’d dehydrate and collapse long after my $4 was gone. Without eating.

I have found a couple of tricks though. Ones worth sharing. Also some pitfalls, which are also worth sharing…

Your New Best Friend

Eggs. Seriously, if you want protein and cannot spare the budget for meat these are your go to. I sprayed down a cupcake pan with baking spray and put an egg in each spot to bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or so. (I went by sight on them and was pretty close to spot on.) Each one cost about 26 to 28 cents. Baked are a bit healthier than fried and can be stored for easy transport. I brought one with my lunch today.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

IMG_0550One of my go-to dishes is a kale and/or asparagus risotto. It takes a while to make, but it is good, filling, and a slightly impressive dish to serve. The problem was the cost of not only the rice, but the herbs (fresh basil and parsley), the kale, and the broth. So my goal was to device a cheaper version of this dish. And what I came up with is about $1 for a lunch serving and $1.50 for a dinner serving.

Spinach Risotto

  • 1.5 cups of arborio rice
  • 32 oz box of chicken broth
  • about 6 oz fresh spinach (2/3rds of a bag)
  • olive oil
  • Italian spices (basil, oregano, dried onion, etc)

I use a mixed blend of spices from an Italian grocery in Racine. A large container usually lasts me a year, about our rate of visiting the place. Olive oil is standard fare from the grocery, nothing fancy.

With the olive oil covering the bottom of your sauce pan on medium heat, throw in the rice until translucent. Toss the spinach on top just before done and cover the saucepan with the cover. Once done, mix with your wooden spoon and throw in some of the broth. Just enough to slightly cover the rice. Cover again for a minute or two to stew the spinach. Keep adding broth and slowly mixing with the wooden spoon. Once a stew like consistency, add some more broth until it is all absorbed. The spices can be added at any time – I add them with the oil to saturate the flavors through the dish.

Notes: I did keep the cost down as the spinach was on sale this week – $1.33 per bag. I also discovered a cheaper bulk bag of the rice that cut the cost by at least 35% for the whole batch. That went a long way to keeping a $1.00 lunch cost. Also, to make this a fully vegetarian/vegan meal, switch out the chicken broth with vegetable broth.

What I Would Change

If there was no budget to consider, I would add in the fresh basil (about a $1.50 hike to the whole batch) and switch out to kale (about another $1 or slightly more to the batch). Additionally (as we are from Wisconsin), I usually add some cheese to it as well. Without the cheese, some salt may be needed for the dish. And finally, meat. Either to the risotto, or served with it instead of the egg.

What I Have Found

This may be an indication of my pre-challenge diet, but I find myself snacking on bananas (13 cents each for my current bunch) and the like because I’m hungry. Also it helps meet my concerns on the amount of fruits and vegetables I am eating. I do have a couple more recipes that I am altering up this week/weekend to address these as well.

The part that really struck me though was the drinking. I have been drinking more water. I have also used a Crystal Lite drink mix in a squirt bottle that runs about 12 cents per 8 oz drink. How much smaller would my meal plan be if I had to purchase ground coffee beans to brew my own coffee? Or pay for the creamer? I set a caveat that my morning coffee would not be included in the budget. My reduced price drink at the drive through is $3.26 after tax. (A trienta iced coffee with cream.) I did go a couple days without it, but had to buy a soda/tea due to the drag effect.

I am not playing around with going cold turkey, because coffee is one of the stages in staving off a migraine before it settles in fully. Between the allergy medication, Advil Liquigels and coffee, without these I would be having a lot of problems this week.

Just in the food reduction (and coffee limitation to 1 per morning), I can see how difficult this budget is to continue under. And why people resort to ramen packets and processed mac & cheese for meals. Eating healthy within these limits is tough. And it definitely limits the amount of meat in your diet.

Officially Day One

Today is the day I begin my SNAP budget challenge. I had planned to begin on August 1st, but I had a surprise visit to GenCon helping out my friends at Studio 6d6. Eating anything at a convention is hard, especially when you’re working. The budget would have been at most a single value meal at Steak & Shake.

Getting up this morning I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t have any food prepared. The salads I had worked up to $1.13 per mason jar were sitting empty at home. Our fridge was a little bare as well. All of this conspired to make my options limited.

Breakfast was my normal peanut butter sandwich. With being away from the puppy for a week, she wanted to taste test my food anyhow. My estimates based on the average amount of peanut butter used and cost of bread per slice is 30 cents per sandwich. I also went out at lunch to buy bananas, which average out to about 13 cents per banana. I did buy a couple of sodas, but I am giving myself a pass on those as I needed the caffeine and didn’t get my caveat coffee this morning. Also those together still cost less than my usual coffee. Not by much, but still less.

Dinner tonight will likely be risotto. I may include some type of meat as I am at 73 cents for the day. So far.

Tomorrow morning I am planning to prep up some black beans to go with risotto left overs. I will likely pick up things to make salads and cereal that is within budget in case I want to vary my diet. And eggs. They are one of the secret tricks to protein as they are pretty cheap to prepare. And I have a ton of recipes for them. Not all include having them on a burger, like I did during GenCon last week.

So I will be ending my day at home with 73 cents spent. Hopefully the other $3.27 will fill me up. Day One is almost in the books. Shopping is next on the list.

In which Zombie Joe considers neither food, nor writing…

This past weekend we spent the anniversary of the day our dog died of cancer taking the newest member of our family (a rescue that really needed our home) to visit Aladdin’s favorite park in Door County. We were actually staying at the cabin we rented just north of that park. Cave Point County Park in Jacksonport, Wisconsin. Door County. No better place on Earth.

ginger-beachWell, we tried to take her to that park. If you’ve been following me through social media, you’ve likely heard me lament that she is agoraphobic and not friendly towards small children or other animals. I’m good, but those fears/aggression might be beyond my skills. So we sat in the truck with the AC on while Robin went to visit Aladdin’s beach. We could take Ginger to the beach behind the cabin. That one is private.

I bring this up because I was considering the number of Represent tshirt campaigns that have been going on lately. And there are many. More than I can possibly contribute to. Choices must be made. But at the same time, the Amells (Stephen Amell from Arrow and Robbie Amell from Flash) have been hitting them one after another for me.

Last year, after our latest stint of cursing cancer, Stephen Amell did another run of his Sinceriously “Fuck Cancer” shirt. While I spent July last year stating “Today was a good day” and “we’ve all got jobs to do”… I spent the better part of August saying “fuck cancer” pretty much daily. And this past Friday, I was wearing my Captain Amell Fuck Cancer shirt.

I’m going to skip past Stephen Amell’s second charity shirt (even though it struck solid for me too), and talk about the one going on right now. Robbie Amell posted a link through Twitter to his Camp Hometown Heroes charity shirt. I clicked it simply because, as a fan, I wanted to see what he was supporting. The charity is a free summer camp for the kids and younger siblings of fallen soldiers. As if that wasn’t enough it is in Grafton, Wisconsin. I remember seeing a news report about Aaron Rodgers taking a group of kids from the camp out on a boat a while back.

Children’s charities are my thing. Children’s cancer charities… forget about it. I’m there. Much like how I knew Ginger needed a place like ours to heal from her mistreatment the first year of her life, I could see how these kids of service members could really benefit from this camp. So you know I will be picking up a shirt from the Robbie Amell “Camp Hometown Heroes” page when I get home tonight.

You should too. It’s a sharp shirt. And a really great cause.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, I hear they are giving away a shirt that is signed by both of the Amells.