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I Know What I Know

Giving Back to the Web since 2015

I’m a Vintage Queen!

One of my former students, Lisbon HS senior Natalie Ott, interviewed me for her fashion blog. Her article is so incredibly written I had to share it with you. Not only that, of course, it’s about moi and how fashionable I am 🙂

Check it out! 

 

Birds of a Feather — Fun Running/Playing Kenku in Dungeons and Dragons

Shout out to all my fabulous nerds, especially those of us who enjoy the unprecedented masterpiece that is Dungeons and Dragons! I’ve been playing D&D on and off since college, but I’ve been in a steady campaign since 2009 or so. Nothing beats an evening of good folks and collaborative storytelling!

Recently, my Dungeon Master (who just happens to be my husband too!) has led our party to a very distinctive settlement — the village of Eagle Scream, deep in the jungles of the Southlands. This settlement is inhabited by the mysterious Kenku, a humanoid/avian race. The Kenku have been in the game world for awhile, but were first introduced as playable characters in Volo’s Guide to Monsters (5e).

My beloved DM mentioned that he had had a lot of trouble finding much online about the Kenku culture. If you click here and here you can read about the basics of the race, such as the bonuses and abilities. There’s plenty of information about Kenku as they try to survive among others in cities, or as they wander, homeless, through the land. But there is very little about what an all-Kenku settlement would be like. Or how this particular population of Kenku may have broken their curse!

So, without any other formalities, here are some of the details my DM, our player Chealsey (who is actually playing a Kenku character) and I came up with for a stable Kenku settlement. Most of this is stuff I just played around with in my head today, mixed in with a lot of the stuff my husband and Chealsey came up with. Since I’m playing in the campaign right now, I may not have discovered all the secrets and nuances of the Eagle Scream my husband created. I’m just running with what they already have very cleverly presented in the game!

The Curse

Many of the Kenku in the settlement have gone through a trial or challenge to win back their ability to craft speech and get back some of their creativity. In our campaign, our quest party decided to accompany our friend Birdy (yes, that is what we call her) to try and win back her voice. We have been sent on an epic dungeon crawl through an ancient temple where we our worthiness is being judged. I can’t get into that now — that might be the subject of another post, but my DM is totally rocking it with the puzzles and traps! The dungeon is in the temple of Garuda, king of birds.

The Settlement

Eagle Scream is a perched village constructed in the treetops of a massive, ancient forest. They have rope-and-pulley elevator systems, wooden walkways, rope bridges, ladders, and netting to navigate the different dwellings. Houses are typically wooden huts or lean-tos, with some tent-like structures made of their signature woven cloth. Some bigger structures are carved into the living trees, or the trees have grown around them over the centuries. The settlement is concealed from the ground by the leaves, as well as a optical illusion. The Kenku here make a special cloth that is dull russet on one side and silvery on the other. This is draped in strategic places all around the settlement. When it blows in the wind and reflects with the sunlight, it appears from the ground that there are silverly, ghostly spirits flying through the trees. Several whistle contraptions carved of wood and bone are strategically placed so that the wind blows through them, creating haunting, moaning sounds to add to the affect. Space is at a premium here, so gathering places are used for multiple things. For example, a large platform might be a market place by day, and a bar/hangout by night.

Economics

The Kenku settlement operates like many medieval towns, with artisans, merchants, etc. There is more trading than using currency, though they do use coins as well. Mimicry potions are extremely cheap here, like 25 gp or less, so this is a good place to stock up! The Kenku are master weavers, and are able to replicate any kind of cloth or tapestry design after studying it for a short time. As this particular settlement has become more creative again, one might observe weavers incorporating multiple styles together in a kind of collage, creating a one-of-a-kind bolt of cloth or tapestry. They are also very clever at crafting wicker, and use it to make armor, furniture, baskets, fishing equipment, parts of buildings, etc. This settlement also has several individuals actively working on flight technology and magic. Many have a harness with expandable canvas wings that allow them to glide. Think hang-glider. These kenku also produce some of the finest honey in the region, and the royal jelly from this honey gives players +1 to hit and +1 to damage for an hour after consuming it. Kenku also adore shiny things. The baubles don’t have to be worth much, as long as they are shiny! Many decorate their homes and themselves with sparkly stuff. Gems make for GREAT trading.

Social Organization

It’s rare for so many Kenku to be living in one place. This settlement encompasses multiple flocks, which are affiliated by bloodline, though intermingling does happen. Each flock has a Matriarch, the eldest female of the bloodline. When decisions must be made that affect the entire settlement, the Matriarchs gather to discuss and give their wisdom. The day-to-day running of the settlement, however, is shouldered by elected officials from each house that work together for the good of the group. Political intrigue does occur, but most in this place are more concerned with flight, or breaking their curse, as opposed to infighting or jockeying for position. There are temples here, with clerics, a mage guild, and a fighter’s guild. Defying the “birds mate for life” stereotype, this society does not subscribe to monogamous marriage-like unions. Though some mates stay together for many years, it is more fruitful for everyone to have multiple partners. Many hatchlings aren’t sure who their fathers are, and the mothers purposely do not confirm. That way, the males of the settlement believe that any child could be theirs, and therefore want to teach and protect it.

Religion

This settlement has cast aside the old gods that cursed them. In their new pantheon, there are tales of how these new gods rose up and cast out the gods that cursed the Kenku. This is evidenced by Garuda’s ability to reverse the curse. There are other gods that have stepped up to replace the old gods, much like Greek Mythology. You can set whatever alignment you like to these, and there are more available on other sites.

Amalthea, Queen of Heaven — Garuda’s wife, the Great Goddess. Sacred to women, protector of children, Goddess of Love, Egg-Laying, Nesting Craft, and Fertility, she of the White Wings.

Zadok — God of Storms — controls the weather. Can be extremely benevolent, or violently angry and need to be placated. Appears as a Kenku with wings made of stormclouds, threaded with lightning.

Mordru Slaine — Trickster god, uses his mimicry to confuse, beguile, and grift. Protector of thieves, illusionists, and performers. He has the ability to change the appearance of his feathers at will but often appears as a starling.

Dominica — Goddess of Winter and War — appears as a humanoid snowy owl. Protectress of adventurers, fighters, guards. She spreads her wings over the world one at a time to bring the snows and ice. Known to be just, but merciless.

Isasuravestna — the Spirit of Flight is depicted as a glowing, diamond-shaped star, a disembodied being that was torn from the Kenku by the old gods. It has yet to be coaxed back into them, but some worship it in an attempt to gain its favor.

Nethaniah — God of Water and Wisdom — He appears as a Kenku waterfowl with webbed feet and hands and shining, waterproof feathers that look blue or black depending on the light. He is the father of Zadok. Preferred by scholars/mages to help the ideas flow.

Ashtoretta — Goddess of Fire — she is the one who has promised to restore the spark of creativity to the Kenku if they become worthy. She is worshipped by artisans for her powers of inspiration. She appears as a golden-feathered Kenku with wings of fire.

One Last Thing…

Is playing a Kenku possible without having the curse broken? Yes. As a player, you have to think about like, what would it be like if you could only speak in vine/meme quotes? If someone scared you, you couldn’t say “that scared me” you’d have to say “I almost dropped my croissant!” For the Kenku, it’s similar. They can only repeat phrases they could have heard somewhere else in the voice of the person they heard say it. The way we’ve been playing it, players are NOT allowed to literally chop up individual words and string them together. They can only use repeated phrases. Basically, the rest of the players and the DM call BS if we think the Kenku character is saying something that they never would have overheard. If we are not speaking in character, and it is assumed that we are going to be talking for several hours (like hatching a plan or something) then we let the player revert to normal speech, assuming that with enough time allotted she could get her point across.

It’s a fun race to play. Try it!

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Oh, nice buns.

 

Preserving Tradition

So, it turns out that mason jars have other uses besides decorating tables at Pinterest-inspired rustic-themed weddings or drinking “Southern” style drinks at chain restaurants.

That’s right, folks, I’m talking about their original purpose — canning food to preserve it for later.

Canning is a family tradition, specifically on my mother’s side. My great grandmother had an enormous garden and spent all summer canning. She might have burned my grandmother, Millie, out on it, because when my mom was growing up, Grandma only canned tomatoes and froze sweet corn. Her mother-in-law, though, was quite the canner, and had a victory garden during World War II (she would lose her son, Russell, when his plane went down over France). Perhaps talent skipped a generation, because my mom returned to the ways of her forebears, and turned half of our back yard into a vegetable patch.

When I was growing up, every summer was a cornucopia of fresh vegetables. Mom was always in a rush to can and preserve everything before it went bad, or, it seemed like that to me. Our house was built in 1899, and heating and cooling it wasn’t always efficient. To save money, we didn’t run the AC often, and when Mom canned, the kitchen got pretty hot. So as a selfish kid/teen, this always really annoyed me. If I complained, though, my mom would say something like, “So in the winter, you don’t want any garden green beans, then?” Canning, while making the kitchen a sauna, was preferable to the day she dried all her basil in the microwave to keep it for the rest of the year. Something about that drying herb smell, mixed with a little burning, made me want to puke.

In hindsight, my complaints were pretty silly, considering the amazing things my mom was doing. Think about the hard work — growing your own vegetables, tending the garden all summer, and then preserving the harvest, all so your family could eat healthy and save money. Yeah, the woman was (and still is) a total superhero. I remember sitting at the kitchen table drawing, or doing homework (at the beginning of the year) while she watched endless marathons of Law and Order, or her soap opera, Days of Our Lives, and canned canned canned all day.

While I can’t have a garden (I live in a condo) I am attempting to keep the tradition alive. I’m proud to call myself a fourth-generation canner! Today I got five pallets of tomatoes at the farmer’s market and I’m ready to preserve.

I’ve decided to do two pallets of plain crushed tomatoes (can be made into anything), two pallets of spaghetti sauce (we went through all of last year’s) and one pallet of extremely hot salsa (just for me, nobody else likes it that hot!).

Step one is to wash all of my cans, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Next, I’ll put four quarts of water in my pressure cooker and start gently heating it with the empty jars inside. You need the jars, food, rings, and lids all hot at the same time.

I’m going to do the plain tomatoes first. When I do crushed tomatoes, I don’t like skins in it, so I’ll need to remove those. I gently boil the tomatoes until the skins start coming off, and then I squeeze out the inside of the tomato into one bowl and put the skins/cores in the other. You can get this neato device called a vittorio strainer that removes all the skins, stems, and seeds for you, but I don’t have one. I don’t mind seeds in any of my tomato products, and neither does my family, so no worries.

When I’ve de-skinned all the tomatoes, it’s time to ladle them into hot quart jars, and put the hot lids and rings on them. Then, I cook them in the pressure cooker at 11 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes.

For pasta sauce, you can remove the skins if you like, but it’s not required. I cut up and sauté whatever veggies I have laying around (onions, eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, bell pepper, mushroom, etc) and then create a pasta sauce using the diced tomatoes or crushed, skinless tomatoes. Make sure to give it some spices, like salt, pepper, garlic, basil, etc. I also love to throw in kale, because unlike some of the other veggies, it’ll keep its texture through the canning process.

My spaghetti sauce is pretty runny, so when I use it in the winter I sometimes mix it with some tomato paste. I also make it vegetarian so I can add the meat later if I want to. If you decided to do meat, you will have to adjust the canning time and pressure. It takes a LOT longer.

Vegetarian spaghetti sauce should be canned at 10 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes.

Last but not least, hot salsa! I use a recipe (with variations) that I found in the little booklet that came with my Presto Pressure Canner and Cooker.

ZESTY SALSA

  • 10 cups chopped, cored tomatoes (about six pounds)
  • 5 cups chopped and seeded bell peppers (about two pounds)
  • 5 cups chopped onions (about 1.5 lbs)
  • 2.5 cups chopped and seeded hot peppers (about a pound)
  • 1.25 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp cilantro
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • hot sauce optional

Combine all ingredients in pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process at 10 lbs pressure for 10 minutes.

I’m pretty loosey-goosey with recipes, so if I don’t have enough of something, I’ll add something else. I’ve been known to put diced zucchini and summer squash in my salsa as well. I also really like adding corn. As long as you don’t put any meat-related things in it, you should be able to add whatever you want, veggie-wise.

I started canning today about 1:00. It’s 2:30 and I haven’t even put anything in the pressure cooker yet. I’m still skinning tomatoes, and writing this while I wait for them to cool. It’ll probably be 7:00 or 8:00 before I’m done.

Edit: more like 9:00!

I’m sure my daughter thinks it’s annoying that mommy can’t play right, now, and she definitely thinks the kitchen and stove are “too hot” (which is fine with me for safety reasons). However, I hope she’ll grow up and take on this family tradition. I’m writing down all my recipes and even making some videos so she’ll have my help, just like my mom is there to share her tips and tricks with me.

Well, this is has been fun. I hope you consider taking up this, I guess, hobby yourself, because it’s a great way to have veggies in the winter, save money, and have some fun experimenting.

I feel connected to my family as I slave over a hot pressure cooker, and it’s a priceless feeling.

A Haunted History of Denver’s Croke-Patterson Mansion

A Haunted History of Denver's Croke-Patterson MansionA Haunted History of Denver’s Croke-Patterson Mansion by Ann Alexander Leggett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book, which attempts to chronicle the colorful past and present of a very unique Denver building, was well-researched and enjoyable to read. I learned quite a bit about the house, through its story, the history of Denver as well.

The descriptions of some of the oddly shaped rooms, and the stories about the dogs and the mirror did give me chills. It also definitely made me want to visit the house sometime so I can experience it all for myself.

However, I would say my critique of the book lies with its heavy reliance on the author’s and other people’s “feelings” about the house and how the spiritual energy did things to their bodies. I actually believe in ghosts because I have seen them and felt some energy similar to what was described in the book. Although, when building a case for a haunting, relying on these forms of “evidence” is simply not convincing, especially since the ghost hunters with the experience and the equipment came back with results suggesting the property is not actively haunted.

The main “power” I think the structure has is its ability to weave a spell over people, to pique their interest, and to capture their hearts. Many people have dedicated a lot of time and effort into preserving the site as well as researching it and investigating it. It’s obviously a unique place that matters to a lot of people, and I respect that.

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Blood Water Paint

Blood Water PaintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an exceptional book about an exceptional woman, a master painter who manages to survive in a man’s world and perfect her craft. Beautifully written in gut-wrenching verse. I couldn’t put it down.

Those of us who still struggle under the yoke of the patriarchy and deal with every-day misogyny will find strength in Artemisia’s character and determination. I have felt her rage and I know many other women who have as well. This is an important book for YA feminism, but for those of you out there who are teachers, please find a way to get male students to read this book.

As was mentioned at ALAN this year, and I wish I could credit which author said it — “Rape books aren’t just for girls.” If we want to change rape culture we need to get this book in as many hands as possible regardless of gender.

I read the author’s notes about this book, about the struggle to bring Artemisia’s story to light all these years after she died, and I’m very grateful that she was finally able to find a platform to share this with the world.

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Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

The Bazaar of Bad DreamsThe Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I was twelve years old and hiding his books under my bed because I wasn’t sure my parents would approve. I can’t say I’ve read all of his books, but I’ve read all the classics like “The Shining” and “Misery” etc.

I’m also a writer who doesn’t stick to one genre, so I enjoy that SK has a lot of different kinds of books and stories, but all with his signature voice and threads that tie the universes together.

This collection was a fun read for sure. It’ll take you to a lot of different places, make you laugh and cry and be scared and grossed out, so strap in for a good time.

“Mile 81” was classic King, but to a point where it became self-referential, which was very cheeky but also annoying. But I guess when you’re one of the world’s most popular authors you can get away with that stuff! I loved it anyway.

“The Dune” was an interesting one with a fun twist. “UR” was also thought-provoking and very fun. The best part of King’s work to me is the characters, and there are many to love and hate in the collection. “Mortality” was also very thought provoking and makes you think about the ripple effect of violence. “Blockade Billy” was also highly enjoyable and I would consider using it in a sports lit class.

There are a couple of down points in the collection that I didn’t care for, specifically “Herman Wouk is Still Alive.” I found King’s portrayal of low SES women to be two dimensional and bourgeois in way that borderline offended me. This story is actually the whole reason why I gave this four stars instead of five.

By far, however, “Bad Little Kid” was my all-time favorite. It had some of the same flavors as “IT” so if that’s one of your King favorites, I think you’ll like that story. “Obits” was also on fire. I love how King makes you examine your values and there isn’t always a clear hero in a story. He can also break your heart, like with “Summer Thunder.”

Superfans will definitely love this collection. If you’re brand new to SK, I wouldn’t start here — go back and hit the classics and then come on over when you’ve read “IT” and “The Shining” and maybe like “Pet Sematary” too. See you there!

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My Face to the Wind

My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher (Dear America)My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher by Jim Murphy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My husband is really cool. Okay, so you’re thinking… what exactly does that have to do with this book? Okay, well, he planned a surprise trip out west for our anniversary, and he bought me a book for every place where we would be staying. Our first stop was Broken Bow, Nebraska. You folks are all readers, right? So you know why my dude’s a keeper.

This book was pretty good, though I was reading it as an adult and obviously it’s aimed at upper elementary/middle grade readers. I’m a teacher, so I was thinking about which of my students would enjoy it.

I’d say that I’ve read better YA and Middle Grade books. There was a sprinkling of modern language and turns of phrase that distracted me from the time period in which the story takes place.

As a teacher, I definitely felt for the main character as she struggled to take her father’s place and do her job with no support from the community, no textbooks, and a garbage classroom. A lot of teachers this very second are in a similar situation! I couldn’t help but put myself in Sarah Jane’s shoes. The snowstorm element brought up good memories of reading “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. But then I thought, maybe I should just re-read “The Long Winter.”

Some very good descriptions. I loved how the wind was personified in the story, and when I got to Broken Bow, yeah, the wind feels like it’s out to get you!

The story could have done a little more with the Native Americans. The characters were operating under racist misinformation that was disproven, but it wasn’t something that was lingered on or developed.

On the other hand, I really felt like there was something romantic between the landlady and the priest that was never developed. I thought that was a cool subplot, especially because the MC was too young to really get what was going on, but nothing came of it, which wasn’t very rewarding for people who bother to pay attention to subtext.

Might be worth adding to your classroom library, as I think it would definitely interest some readers.

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Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football TeamUndefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book in my box when I attended the AERA conference two years ago. Reading it embarrassed me, because I had never heard of Jim Thorpe, and everyone should have heard of Jim Thorpe. He was a one-of-a-kind athlete, a borderline demigod from a mythological world. Admittedly, I am not a sports fan really of any kind (I’m an indoor cat) but what I appreciated about this book was that it has many audiences who might want to read it.

As an educator, I this book would appeal to reluctant readers who happen to be football fans. Then, they would inadvertently learn about the cultural erasure of Native Americans around the turn of the century. Or, if you’re like me, the football came as a secondary interest, and the stories about the schools and what the children suffered were compelling and made me feel outraged.

This book has a great, clean layout, with great pictures and a look that will appeal to many readers of various interests and levels. Thinking about my readers who struggle, my only issue is that it does skip around in the timeline a bit, which is artistic and cool to confident readers and confusing to others. Also it really didn’t talk much about his later years, and I wanted to read about how a town allegedly offered to rename their town if the family agreed to bury Jim there.

All in all, a good read, and a must for your secondary classroom library.

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Getting Caught Up on my Goodreads Acct… here is the first of MANY reviews!

199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die by Loren Rhoads
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a semi-professional creepy person and recovering goth, this was the perfect book for me! It was a Christmas gift from my mom, who has always been my cemetery buddy and BFF in morbidity.

I travel a lot, and I’m always looking for a good cemetery to visit that has connections to the history of the locations I visit. I’ve actually been to several of the cemeteries on the list in the USA and Europe, and it would be a serious dream to visit them all. I’ve loved many cemeteries for many different reasons, but if was forced to choose an all-time favorite, it would probably be Pére Lachaise, which seems to be everyone else’s favorite, too. I mean, it’s amazing to read about how many cemetery planners used PC as an inspiration for their own boneyards. It was really cool to read about how and why the cemeteries were planned and what the creators were thinking during the design process.

The pictures in the book are gorgeous. I don’t keep many books once I’ve read them, because I live in a tiny condo where space is at a premium, but I can promise you I’m keeping this one. In fact, it is going on a road trip with my family and I this summer as we drive out to New England. One I know for sure we’ll be visiting (again) is the cemetery in New Haven, CT. I’ve been before and I can’t wait to go again and walk under the Egyptian gate!

If you’re a creepo cemetery wanderer like me, this is the book for you. I would recommend you pair this with “Stories in Stone” by Douglas Keister.

My one criticism of this book is that it focuses on a very Western-centric, Anglo view of history and importance. I figured in the USA section there would be more about Native American sacred places, or in other countries, showing off burial sites from native peoples. There were some, but there was also a great silence, which speaks instead, perhaps, to the disappearance of these sites or that they are not being cared for and have been erased, as the colonizers have always wanted to do with the culture of those they colonize.

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