Category Archives: Editorial

Returning to LOTRO

I have been AWOL from blogging for a while, due to full-time work and lack of gaming interests this past Q1. Real life is in a state of stress right now as I am taking further education starting May while also losing my temporary contract at the current employer end of this month. What better time to start an expensive management course than entering unemployment? It’s not exactly as I had planned it all out but such is the risk one takes with accepting fixed term contracts. As someone who tends to trust the inevitable turns in her life, I like to say it’s all for the best as I didn’t exactly belong in that industry and felt increasingly lonely in my position. Life is a constant approximation effort between where we are and where we’d like to be. But yeah, job hunting is tiring and I hope I can settle somewhere permanent again soon.

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Meanwhile some of my gaming spirits have returned with spring. I picked up the amazing Hollow Knight which Eri justly treats as GOTY material – the game play, atmosphere, combat, art and music are just that good! I’ve also had a stab at Night in the Woods and Osiris: New Dawn, the latter being a very promising up-and-coming space survival sim that already looks and plays great for early access. (I got a copy of that one for free, I learned my EA lessons.)

With gaming being back on the table, what I have really lacked for some time now is an MMO to return to, a casual place to hang, do a few quests and smell the roses. FFXIV has been that for me over the past 2 years but I’ve felt increasingly bored with dungeon running and replacing tier after tier of endgame gear. I like to play FFXIV in intervals these days, catching up on story content after longer periods of time. FFXIV is a beautiful world but it does not have the same “come hang” homey appeal that WoW used to have or LOTRO.

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Which brings me to LOTRO, my favorite MMO that I’m not playing: looks like I am back! I always had a score to settle with Moria – that terrible, tedious 40ies level grind that comes before it and did my head in last time I played. After realizing Turbine had left me with over 10k of virtual currency for that extra year of subscription I didn’t use in 2015 and also, some friendly pep-talk by the twitter instigation unit, I’ve returned to Middle-Earth and I’m glad, I did!

After spending the Easter weekend questing in Eregion, I’ve finally conquered the Hollin Gate and entered the hallowed halls of Durin. It seemed easier leveling this time around but maybe it was just my renewed enthusiasm for the game. Middle-Earth has always held a special spell over me and despite all the things that are pretty terrible in LOTRO, from inventory management to combat, the world, music and people have always mattered more. I’ve only been back a few days and already had more friendly encounters and met more silly helpful people on Laurelin than I otherwise would in years.

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It’s good to be back. I intend to ignore all the things that made LOTRO so daunting in the past – the endless deeds and crafts and rep grinds. I’ve managed to make some sense of the legendary weapon system at least and am leveling my Anathema+Necronomicon on the Lore Master as we speak. My character is still impressively ugly but apparently the Standing Stones folks still have every intention of updating the character models sometime soon. It’s good to see the new devs having plans for LOTRO and that 10 year anniversary event coming up tomorrow! Looks like the perfect time to re-subscribe if you were ever considering it.

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A big shout-out to Ravanel who was kind enough to help me craft some great looking gear for my struggling Lore Master! I finally feel like I have a character I like to stick with for longer.

A Year in Review: Top 2016 Games and Soundtrack!

2016 has come and gone and if my social channels are any indication, most people people are glad to leave this arbitrary number behind. I don’t personally believe 2016 was the awful year it’s made out to be in the media but it’s certainly been exhausting on a personal level, despite some successes on the writing and day-job front. I’ve pushed myself to leave the safety (and lull) of a stable workplace for more flexible and lucrative work that doesn’t come with the security of a permanent contract. While I am content with my progress thus far, it’s also a stressful situation to be in at times and my constant struggle to find peace of mind inside our daily grind remains one of life’s great challenges. Alas!

top 2016 games and soundtrack2016 wasn’t a rocking year for me gaming wise, either. I arrived with humble expectations and browsing through my blog and steam library, I realize I’ve played much less than in years before. This was also definitely not a year of MMORPGs and I find myself in that strange position now where I am no longer looking forward to a single upcoming MMO title in 2017 and beyond. It’s a weird and melancholic feeling because MMOs have been a big part of my life for the past 15 years. With the exception of Black Desert Online, I’ve barely played anything besides some brief visits to Eorzea in the first half of the year. MMORPG players have seen this coming for a while and it certainly feels like our favorite genre has come to somewhat of a halt; that is, if you’re not still a follower of well-established titles such as WoW or GW2.

My Top Video Games of 2016

For reasons explained above, my past year in gaming wasn’t all about the MMOs. While I still haven’t gone back to GW2 for the expansion, two of last year’s expectations did hold true and then, it’s also been a year of small, unexpected delights. Without further ado, here are my top 5 titles of 2016:

top 2016 games and soundtrack

5. Owlboy
Owlboy by developer D-Pad Studio only came out in November 2016 and while I haven’t finished playing it, it’s already fulfilled all my expectations in terms of being a fun adventure with beautiful visuals and music. There are some unforgettable moments and quirky characters in Owlboy that make it a safe choice for anyone into whimsical and charming adventure platformers that aren’t overly complex. Only minor gripe: no keymapping for gamepads!

top 2016 games and soundtrack

4. Portal Knights
I’ve praised the concept, visuals and soundtrack of Portal Knights on MMOGames and if you ever wondered how a minecraft sandbox meets level-based gameplay would play, this is the title to grab! The game is especially fun for short-session gameplay together with up to 3 other players (also great for kids), while you can still put those solo hours to good use, base-building, gathering and crafting. Controls and GUI management aren’t perfect in Portal Knights but definitely manageable.

top 2016 games and soundtrack

3. The Witcher 3 (DLC)
The Witcher 3 was my GOTY in 2015 and remains my most beloved RPG title of this year – and possibly all eternity. I’ve lived and breathed the Wild Hunt again over the Xmas holidays and I am still so impressed and delighted by this title, I got no words! Not surprisingly, the Hearts of Stone and Blood&Wine expansions have been nominated for great honors again in 2016. I’ve only started to catch up now and intend to make the most of what CD Projekt Red have stated will be their only Witcher 3 expansions! :sadface:

top 2016 games and soundtrack

2. Black Desert Online
I’ve spent copious amounts of time in BDO between spring 2016 and summer, exploring its fantastic persistent world, writing guides for its complicated subsystems, joining a guild and decorating my house. While the game has had its issues and share of monetization scandals, it is still one hell of an experience for anyone looking to explore and travel a magnificent MMO world solo! I never reached PVP “endgame” in BDO and didn’t care to, but I had fun with almost everything else including its different approach to combat. The game remains an “alone together” experience for anyone not looking to join competitive PVP which is good or bad, depending on your personal viewpoint!

top 2016 games and soundtrack

1. GOTY: Overwatch!
There is no way around giving Blizzard the credit that is their due: they knocked it out of the park with Overwatch in 2016. As far as impressive comebacks go, only Square-Enix have managed a similar feat with a Realm Reborn – a persistence we rarely get to see in the video game industry. From the ashes of Titan, Blizzard have salvaged not just an incredibly accessible and fun hero shooter but one that’s so full of charming characters and iconic lines and gameplay moments, the Overwatch roster is already as popular as any other Blizzard IP heroes. I gave this game a 9/10 and there’s nothing else to add here, Overwatch was one hell of a successful release in 2016!

Best Soundtrack of the Year

As far as great VGM went in 2016, I’m sticking with the tradition of my annual youtube recap which you can find below! It’s been a good year for video game soundtrack and the Battle Bards podcast keeps going strong, counting its 4th anniversary soon. There’s been an official twitter account now for a while, too. I am still having as much fun as ever talking MMO music with fellow bards Syp and Steff.

Top VGM of 2016 list:

12. Civilization VI
11. Destiny: Rise of Iron
10. Overwatch
9. Enter the Gungeon
8. Hyper Light Drifter
7. Stardew Valley
6. Owlboy
5. Portal Knights
4. The Last Guardian
3. Revelation Online
2. WoW Legion
1. Black Desert Online

Let me know what your favorite video game soundtrack has been of late and another Happy New Year to all of you! Let’s see what 2017 will bring in terms of digital delights and virtual world travel – it’s all a blank open space for me from this point forward!

Non-Gamey Creative Projects

I’ve not been playing too many games of late, mostly because work has been too busy and pre-XMAS time is usually packed with birthday parties and other social events over here. I’ve started tackling several home improvement projects too, such as turning our spare guest room into an atelier / hobby room so I can get back to some of the crafty hobbies I used to pursue, like water coloring or pottery. I’m also madly in love with bottle charms right now which is a project I definitely want to have a go at, soon – how cute are they?!

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image @ deviantart.com

I’ve been doing more cooking experiments again, baking a little (although I’m not very good at that) and trying recipes from my childhood. I love Asian cuisine, particularly Middle-Eastern and Thai food and I’m slowly getting into a bit of Japanese cooking too. I had the opportunity to enjoy some Okonomiyaki (aka Japanese savoury pancakes) the other day which are easy to prepare, highly flexible and very tasty if you’re into cabbage. I am definitely gonna make more of that!

My most recent project is a 30L nanocube aquarium which I received as an early birthday present from the better half. We’ve had many different fish tanks over the years, starting off small with fish like Tiger barbs before upgrading to bigger tanks with Mbuna cichlids, then downgrading again to only a single fish tank with one grumpy looking Channa Pulchra (snakehead). I’ve had a thing for siamese fighting fish, aka Bettas, for a while now and since they’re a solitary breed perfect for smaller tanks, a nanocube is a great solution that also fits perfectly in my gamer room. Meet Rubeeo!

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I’ve spent the weekend planting an all natural habitat for my new roomie, including sand substrate and plenty of water plants to allow for cover and a sleeping nest. Betta Splendens tend to “park” themselves on big leaves or shrubbery for rest which is incredibly cute to watch. They’re labyrinth fish, meaning  they breathe atmospheric air that gets stored in a special organ in their head, and they’re bubble nest breeders which is rather interesting if you’re into observing the natural behavior of animals. Bettas are obviously popular for their splendid colors first and foremost but there’s a lot more to them and personally, I like how attentive and responsive these little guys are.

Planting the nanocube was very enjoyable and I’m already thinking of ways to improve my initial setting – although for now, what it really requires is patience. I hope that my carpet plants will expand over the coming months for a fully overgrown ground level. Aqua Scaping is a patient art and there’s a lot you can learn on the way to an all-natural looking and balanced underwater environment. I’ve a feeling this could be pretty addictive too!

What creative endeavors have you been up to lately?

#Blaugust2016: Travel

There’s two kinds of travel as far as I’m concerned: there’s cultural travel with different stops and being on the road almost permanently – and there’s relaxation holidays, being mostly stationary somewhere taking the odd day trip. Having done a lot of both, I’d say I enjoy them equally. When I was younger and still subject to my parents’ whims, we went for typical beach holidays every year, to Italy, to France and sometimes to Germany to visit family.

My first longer trip was in 1994 to Iran where I stayed for a month in Teheran (mostly) with my father. It’s something I’d like to do again soon, in different company, because it’s one of the culturally richest places I’ve ever been to with a lot to see and great, welcoming people. Between 19 and 20, I decided it was time to go see more of the world on my own and so I spent prolonged holidays in the USA two years in a row, first on the East Coast and later, taking a long road trip across the West and staying in California for another month where I also have distant relatives.

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Pic from the ferry in NY, summer 2000

Those were both good experiences, for one because I learned that seeing things for myself is rather different than on TV or from the news. Traveling abroad also gives you a great sense of independence and self-confidence. Starting university, I soon met my today partner and together, we began traveling parts of Northern Europe every year – something which was never in the book for me as a kid (“too cold”). We’ve been to Sweden a few times visiting his family and from there it was England, Scotland and Ireland together, a different place every year.

I’ve completely fallen in love with the British Isles but having spent the bout of my twenties doing road trips, I soon longed for the relaxation of staying somewhere more longterm again. And so we’ve spent the last three years at the Italian Adria during summer which is sort of our go-to place to recharge batteries, with short trips to Austria and France during the rest of the year whenever that city itch strikes.

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Glastonbury Tor…to Avalon, summer 2009

Traveling is of course also lovely for taking pictures. Wherever I’ve been, I’ve come home with photographs from beautiful places and people, of which there are in every country. Every now and then I go back looking at older shots and wonder who I’d be without all my experiences from visiting different places. Being able to travel abroad is such an integral part to my understanding of the world today, my interest in cultural differences (that are fun but also not very serious), my love for language, for nature, for food and all the basic things that are the best in life.

I’ve only really gained an understanding of my own home and appreciation for where I live through traveling too, knowing what it is I like and also dislike about growing up and living in Switzerland. You can’t really perceive or judge your own position in the world without going away and looking at it from a distance.

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Strassbourg Old Town, Spring 2016

Italy Impressions

Italy is the country I’ve been to the most, maybe 20 times altogether over the course of my childhood and also in later years. It’s therefore a place I don’t feel like a tourist in anymore – I have friends in Italy, I speak some of the language (although it could be better) and I completely surrender to the Italian groove whenever I am there. Italy is for letting the soul rest, dolce far niente and food goodness. People are warm and friendly (this is the “real” Italy, not a city like Milan up north which is as much typically Italian as London is typically English), life begins late in summer and goes all the way into the night, the sea is warm and nobody cares where you park your car.

UK Impressions

I’ve been to Great Britain three times and while Ireland has its enchantment, it’s been lovely Somerset and Scotland with its rough hills and green lochs which I’ve come to adore. England is brimming with history and its past grandeur is never more obvious than when visiting the numerous and impressive beach castles along the Eastern shore all the way to Scotland. Whether you’re interested in history or a fan of myth and mythology, there’s things to do and see to your heart’s content in Britain. It wasn’t exactly our best food experience but we’ve met nothing but fun and straightforward people with a rocking sense of humor. My plan B for when all goes to hell someday is opening a B&B somewhere on a hill in Scotland, keeping my own goats!

France Impressions

France is famed for cities like Paris and its Côte d’Azur but for me, it’s the southern parts of the country that are the most charming. The Alsace area of Strassbourg and Colmar offers a unique mix of French and German culture and some of the most beautiful old towns I’ve ever seen. Strassbourg is a city I love returning to and it’s perfect for a 2-day trip to visit its mighty cathedral, picturesque old town and taking a boat trip around the city. If you choose a central hotel, everything is doable on foot and many people generally understand French, German and English. The food is French and German fusion, generally hearty and very yum!

USA Impressions

I spent my first three weeks in the US at the East Coast, mainly the area around DC, Maryland and New Jersey, with a trip to New York. While NY is a special place no doubt and it feels weird looking back on pictures taken from the WTC (in 2000), I enjoyed my time in the western USA a great deal more; there was a more distinct American character or culture for lack of a better word, which probably makes some sense historically. I like to think of the USA as a continent more anyway, rather than one nation and country. The nature was simply beautiful, especially Montana, Utah and Arizona with their fabulous canyons and national parks. What struck me about these parts of the US was the sheer size and open space which I find very reassuring. Anywhere, people were very friendly and helpful, as if meeting tourists was the greatest thing in the world.

Sweden Impressions

For a Swiss, Sweden is basically home but bigger, with red houses and coastlines but fewer mountains. The south-western part of Halland is Sweden’s popular summer resort and it’s heaven for anyone who enjoys long walks at the beach, cycling and forest solitude. Swedish summer is short and despite having been there in July a few times, I didn’t feel like swimming in the ocean. It’s a lovely country with friendly people and a strong sense of community, freedom but also privacy and decorum. If I go back sometime, I would like to travel further north to see the landscape change and become more barren and rough. If you don’t enjoy seafood like me, Sweden isn’t exactly a culinary highlight but then, I can live off meatballs and mash for a while if need be.

Visiting Next?

Planning your next trips is a lot of fun and our next holidays are always something I’m looking forward to during the year. Now that flying is becoming an option for myself and my partner (who didn’t use to fly at all), we can extend our radius although I’m glad to have spent so much time around central and northern Europe in the past. It’s easy to think that traveling is “the farther, the better” but that’s simply not true; wherever you are, there’s much to discover at your doorstep and at your closest neighbor’s. That said, without anything set in stone yet, I’d like to visit the following places over the coming years:

  • Eastern Europe, esp. Croatia and Greece
  • Canada and California, incl. Burning Man (possibly in 2018 with friends!)
  • Return to Scotland and Iran
  • Go somewhere tropical….maybe Maldives?

My partner and I have a few rules about where we don’t go which includes generally hostile places for tourism. I honestly also don’t look forward to US customs which make you feel like a criminal these days but it’s something to endure. I just hope our current world remains stable, so we can actually visit parts of the Middle East sometime. My better half would also love meeting with friends in Israel but that doesn’t seem like such a great idea at the moment.

What are your travel plans for the future or places you’d like to go?

#Blaugust2016: Sleep

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I like this new sleep problem!

This week me and the better half got our first “proper” bed ever which is something we’ve talked about for years but never quite afforded ourselves. We’ve changed homes together about five times, we’ve invested in things like new furniture, cars or computers without blinking an eye but when it came to the place we go to sleep on every night after work, we’ve been incredible cheapskates. Investing in a reasonably sized bed with a quality mattress wasn’t something we thought was worth it (or that we were).

I don’t know why that is but anyway, I guess it means we’re officially getting old now. I need comfortable, deep sleep to function during the day which wasn’t even an existing thought in my mind pre-thirty. I’ve always been somewhat at war with sleep anyway, already as a child and that has made an impact on my overall health and energy levels. Around 30 my backpains started becoming real bad and still, I didn’t consider getting a bed that wasn’t cheap fare.

Alas, we have a real bed now. It’s a 2×2 meters box spring the way we always dreamed about but only got to sleep on in nice hotels. Traveling around really made us realize how much a good bed matters – who wants to sleep well during their holidays only? If I could travel back in time and tell my younger self to get a decent bunk asap, I would – this is one thing so worth saving up for and prioritizing before many other items we consider everyday necessities.

Naturally, no matter how big your bed is, the cats are going to own at least three quarters of space, anyway. Gute Nacht!

#Blaugust2016: Unplugged

It’s been a seriously depressing year concerning all kinds of bad world news: wars still waging at our doorstep and the refugee crisis in Europe, terrorist attacks or attacks presented as such in the media, mass shootings in a closer vicinity than usual, the UK falling for Brexit and the kind of American presidential race that leaves the most wordy of us speechless. New heights of low or so it seems, and our wonderfully untrustworthy, biased media to tell us all about it – or not.

That is from our perspective, for the mostly white, well-off and pampered it’s been an “exhausting year” having to hear so much of that, naturally from the safety of our homes but anyway it’s been scarier than usual and maybe, we even know someone more personally affected. For others not belonging to said demographic it’s been a year like every other, I’m sure – getting by somehow or far worse, either way no time to follow Brexit live tickers on an expensive phone.

Being present on social media and twitter especially, I admit for a moment this shit really started to suck me in, too. I generally keep informed and I have some appreciation for political satire. Unfortunately, even the “funny” Trump videos on youtube stopped being funny long time ago. The internet has become a toxic wasteland of paranoia when it comes to convoluted trigger words like terrorism and many more -isms like it. No doubt there have been great demonstrations of “online solidarity” during events like the Paris attacks too but they’re drowned out by hysteria and frankly ever increasing racist and xenophobic sentiments, to name a few.

This is not where I want to be.

Why I choose to unplug

Over a year ago my partner started pruning and “sanitizing” his twitter and other media consumption from all negativity, including a huge bulk of political news channels, more comedic ones included. To say this took me by surprise coming from someone so political would be an understatement but by now I understand completely. It’s not just that the negativity is crushing, it’s also unhinged in many ways, often factually wrong and fueled by questionable, shady channels and sources.

Still, it took me a moment to get to that point. I followed the Brexit drama on twitter this early summer, I read different articles and viewpoints on the Orlando shooting and an ever darker cloud started to settle over all my social channels. But then I went back to Italy in July and realized I’d been starting to lose sight of reality –

“Fa caldo” says Giuseppe, like every other night when we frequent our favorite Albergo restaurant at the Adria, the one I have been going to for 30 years. During that same time span there have been several “economic recessions”, not to mention wars and we’ve been collectively afraid of WW3 at least five times, if I remember correctly. Anyway, it’s still the same building with the same blue and white fountain in front and the same home-made Italian cooking I remember from when I was a child. Some tourists at the other table read a newspaper with a big headline about Brexit, or Syria or Hillary Clinton. “The same every day”, Giuseppe shakes his head, he is clearly not impressed. “But here?” he says, “we have sun, food and each other, no? It’s all that matters”.

The world is not a scary place full of evil people. It is a huge place, not the selected fraction we hear about in our daily news. There are not terrorists hiding behind every corner trying to get us. The great, great majority of this planet is inhabited by people who want exactly the same as me: a roof over their head, food on the table, their friends and family safe, peace and happiness. Wherever I have traveled thus far there have been friendly, warm and real people with similar values everywhere, going about their daily lives being completely ignored by “world news”. Nobody reports on our shared daily life; it’s boring and it can’t be used to divide us against each other.

unplugging social media negativity

Inform or not – but always beware paranoia

Initial sarcasm aside, it goes without saying that I’m not trying to make light of horrific events that have gone down this year and go on right now in certain places of the world. Being a target of hate or becoming victim of an attack is terrifying; if it happened to me or anyone I knew personally, I’d be devastated and angry. However participating in the fear and negativity that’s being nurtured collectively through social media serves nothing and nobody. It only fills me with unproductive dread. I’ve been following stories that I have zero influence over for so long, it really begs the question how sacrificing my energy on the altar of vicarious woe is helpful when I could be using it on things and people actually around me. Because let’s face it, when it comes to scary world news, we have exactly two options:

  • A) Read/listen to more bad shit until head is filled up with worry and you’re feeling down. Then go on with your life as usual.
  • B) Don’t read/listen to more bad shit until head is filled up with worry and you’re feeling down. Then go on with your life as usual.

If there’s anything more productive created for you personally, then great – you’re the exception! Maybe someone actually drops their day-job over twitter crazy and becomes an activist or politician but more realistically, this is not what happens. What we do is dip in a daily dose of crowd hysteria and I suspect our reasons range anywhere from earnest empathy to sensationalism and privilege guilt. I sure believed for a time that I “had to” keep myself informed, that somehow as an involved world citizen, I needed to subject myself to insanity. In truth, I’ve changed nothing but my state of mind – for the worse.

unplugging social media negativity

So nope. I really don’t have to follow this stuff! I can’t trust this post-factual age of news reporting we live in and I trust fear-mongering even less, no matter how personal. Fear is the magnifying glass that leads to paranoia. Paranoia means losing sight of all proportion and reality. I know for a fact that the world is not this dark place filled with”others”. I know for a fact that 2016 isn’t by far “the worst year we’ve had” – all it takes is opening a history book. And I know that overall things have actually been getting better slowly but surely and for more people, thanks to research done by people like Max Roser (who is worth following on twitter!). If you feel down on the world, whenever possible take a trip to wherever really, as far as you can – smell foreign air, see for yourself.

I’m going to Gamescom next week. I understand some fellow gamers have mixed feelings about the size of the event or fear for their friends. I thank everyone who told me to take care because I appreciate what they’re saying; but first of all, I wouldn’t even know how to do that and secondly, I refuse to be paranoid. Already the bad feels are starting to creep in and I have to violently shake them off and deny them; this exactly is paranoia!

We will go to Gamescom and we will have a royally epic time. We will hug new friends when we finally meet them, we will play and laugh and celebrate this life because that’s the only way to spite the darkness. We’ll look after those we actually can because they’re in our immediate environment. And if we’re still all screwed anyway by next year because nuclear war / global warming / godzilla / take a pick, heck at least we enjoyed the time we had!

#Blaugust2016: Food

I am back to a work place where there’s no company canteen, shops or restaurants nearby which means most of my co-workers bring lunch with them for their 30 minute lunch break every day. I worked at a clinic before with diet cooks provisioning clients and staff alike but now it’s back to tupperware and simple lunch solutions and therefore one item above all has re-appeared on all my co-workers menus:

cheese

Cottage cheese. That easy to pack, cheap and filling white stuff that’s not only low on calories but low on anything really, including good fat to fuel your body. I made a cottage cheese check last Thursday during lunch break and all of my female co-workers were eating exactly the same type of lunch: salad with cottage cheese. And a few crackers (because the other stuff is fucking depressing).

This isn’t the first time I noticed the omnipresence of cottage cheese in the corporate world, either. Some years ago I had a gig at a consultancy in Zurich’s rich industrial center and every damn lunch break both the over-dressed men and women were listlessly nibbling at cottage cheese and rice crackers. They didn’t even add vegetables or fruit or the like, they only had processed items. My fitness heroes.

According to one research referenced in the “Food Matters” movie documentary of 2008, processed salad dressings make up a significant amount of executive women’s necessary daily caloric intake in industrialized countries. Everyone was taught to fear and avoid real food and worship unfulfilling greens, lowfat products and sugary smoothies from their teenage years latest and of course they’re all familiar with the rules: If you mean to make it big in the corporate world and earn your share, you have to look healthy. And looking healthy equals being slim, no further questions asked. If you’re a woman of average height that means you shall not cross the universally accepted UK size 10 limit. Men face similar issues and smaller paychecks for being too short.

Your answers are already there (but they ain’t great for business)

While there’s a conversation to be had over health and obesity, instilling the fear of food in children from an early age is one of the most harmful forces within modern society today. Having grown up a girl, my first encounter with dieting was through my mother as it so often is. Already in third grade she put me on a diet (she was dieting herself at the time) because I was the tallest girl in my class and also turned out to be the heaviest (duh?), after my teacher decided to put everybody on the scale one fine math morning. I look at old pictures of me in elementary school and can only marvel how anyone could put me on a crash diet. I wasn’t overweight according to our physicist either but my mother was afraid for me and fear is rarely rational.

I am far from the only woman with such an early dieting story and I hate that I was made self-conscious about my weight and started fearing certain foods from such a young age. I grew up with contradictory, confusing food messages from school, from home as well as the media and to this day, I am surrounded by food lies about fat and carbs and calories every time I go grocery shopping. Our modern society started gaining a lot of weight when the food industry decided to really get rolling with low-fat and fitness foods in the 80ies and today some big industries only exist because people have become so out of touch with what is supposed to nourish them. Fat money.

complicated

This kind of stuff can drive you to the brink of madness. There have been periods in my life as a student and also later when I completely lost touch with myself and my body. The voice within was drowned out by all the conflicting messages and the constant fear of gaining weight or not being thin enough, even when I was sporting a smooth size 5-6 which is slim for my body type and height. Talking about BDD…

The thing is, I don’t actually need a size chart to know my body’s needs; I don’t need posters and magazines to tell me when somebody is too slim or overweight or how to exercise more. I need neither look at absurdly skinny models nor fat ones in order to identify the right balance for myself and a healthy life. Nobody does.

If I can drown out the noise and go back to listening and being honest with myself, I know fully well what’s good for me: I know when I’m stuffed or when I overdid it, I feel better and more sated after a freshly cooked meal than a convenient one. I have more energy during the work day when I made time for breakfast and when I add a bit of fresh fruit during those morning and late afternoon work hours. I don’t sleep well after late-night snacks. If I can’t pronounce it, it’s likely better in small amounts. I know I should probably do something about my fitness if I sound like a dying rhino running up a flight of stairs. And I know it’s time to lose a few pounds when my favorite jeans won’t fit anymore or my thighs cause painful friction. Who can tell me any of that but me?

Our body is telling us everything we need to know, the rest is Vanity Fair bullshit and ka-ching!

My new relationship with food: no stressing!

I love food, heck I don’t even dislike cottage cheese as long as it isn’t my go-to lunch option. I grew up around some amazing grandma cooking and I cook most of my meals from scratch when possible. I travel a lot and exploring foreign food traditions and delicacies is big part of the enjoyment. Food is awesome – and eating is supposed to be enjoyable, fulfilling not just filling!

There’s also the whole stress component: all this added stress around our food choices and eating habits is doubly harmful. Stress causes our body to process and store food differently, we’re hungrier and we gobble it down rather than taking the appropriate time to eat. It really all dawned on me one day how often I ate fast meals or snacks without noticing, either because I was absent-minded, hated what I ate or felt guilty for not eating what I hate. Stress stress stress everywhere seeping into my system!

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But no more: Screw temporary diets, screw media messages about fitness and exercise, screw size charts. Screw the what-the-hell-effect and the shame it brings, screw destructive fat-shaming. Your body holds a natural wisdom, so listen to it and above all: be patient with yourself. If you’re over-weight right now or feel over-weight, either way the solution can never be to hate food or stress yourself out (for whom are you stressing anyway?). Give yourself time to learn anew, find out which foods literally make you feel happy and energized – start there! Don’t deny but allow variety and allow yourself to indulge or fail without that what-the-hell-effect taking over full force. It may well be the only thing standing between you and your success.

Taking time and not giving up after “missteps” is generally how people successfully change eating habits and disorders. Banning perfectionism has become an important exercise for me personally. My relationship with food has changed for the better when I discovered that I can actually “eat anything” if I eat without stress (or guilt), including things I used to deny myself. Rather than gorging down a huge bowl of socially accepted green unsatisfying stuff with lots of sauce, I’ll order whatever I crave; more often than not it’s a wholesome choice too because my body actually wants red, yellow, green and brown on my plate. Unsurprisingly this has led to eating less overall, as in snacking less, because I don’t feel I’m wanting. My natural diet is varied and I’ve stopped over-eating when I stopped denial, as well as mindless eating which is probably the biggest culprit of all.

fearIt’s a good place to be at, if not a safe place. Old habits die hard as do internalized fears but I am more aware of them now; I know perseverance is key to starving them out and I refuse to re-enter that unhappy relationship with food. Food is our body’s fuel and the body is not divorced from the mind. Food is also part of countless social interactions and situations in our daily life. I want to enjoy this part of my life and I want to “be present” when I eat, be it by myself or with others. Life is too short to keep missing and fearing such a big and delicious part of it, surely!

#Blaugust2016: Bullied

Welcome to my Blaugust 2016! As announced, there will be a month of rather personal and non-gaming related writing happening on this blog – if that’s not your thing, see you in September! To everyone else: /wave and happy blaugusting!

This post is dedicated to my Burns – for always seeing with the heart and not turning away from a smelly bundle of white fur.

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Finney Mouse

We adopted our third cat Finn, also called Finney Longshanks for his curiously flexible front legs, in June 2015. Like our other two cats whom we found via online shelters and cat networks, Finney was a rescue cat but his story was a little different: Finney was put up for adoption by his breeder, rather than some agency or cat rescue. He is half Maine Coon and half Norwegian Forest cat and by now, he is our other Norwegian’s (who is all black) best pal which was our plan all along.

Finney’s white coat is the result of a natural mutation as is the case with many white cats. He is not an albino but he was born into a litter of brown, grey and black colored coon mixes, all of them slightly bigger and hunkier than him. In the online ad the breeder lady noted that Finney was “hearing” which was the time I learned that a great majority of white and blue-eyed cats are actually deaf. The same gene that causes their blue eyes is often causing deafness too. Finney however has light green eyes, the color of fresh grass and so he can hear just fine.

He is the perfect cat; friendly and talkative to strangers, a happy over-active rascal at times (he loves dog games like retrieving), goofy and so very very affectionate. He was also bullied by his siblings and the other cats, which is why his breeder decided to put him up for adoption.

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2015: Finney’s first night at the new home, so tired!

When we got Finney, he didn’t have the long and glamorous coon coat and collar he has today. His fur was shorter and shaggy. There were bald spots all across his back where he was either hurt by others or had scratched himself. He smelled horribly when we got him, so badly in fact our bedroom, which became his first refuge, smelled of unhealthy fur for weeks. We washed him twice, just to take the edge off. Whenever cats stop taking care of their personal hygiene, you know something is very very wrong.

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2016: Lord Whitemane, “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”

Fast forward one year later, after a patient adjustment phase with our other two darling cats and with lots of play, joy and love Finney has become the star of every party. He prances about the house like the king he is and all our guests fall in love with him in a heartbeat. For whatever reason, he decided my side of the bed and my PC chair are the best places to sleep. I love him too.

Finney is purrfect in every way and I am not even sorry about the bad pun.

When we were little

Watching Finney make himself at home and bloom into the character he is today has made me reflect a lot on my own story of bullying and the stories of countless others. He was born a healthy and social animal but his peer group rejected, nagged and chased him off because of the color of his coat and maybe his slightly more delicate physique. He was isolated and depressed which fortunately, led his breeder to adoption.

But there is no mercy in the animal kingdom any more than there is among humans at times. When I grew up and went through six years of elementary school nightmare in the late 80ies, bullying wasn’t a topic that was frequently discussed, not even by teachers. I felt so isolated and alone not knowing how many people out there shared my predicament. Many of my friends today and folk I met online have similar stories of social ostracization to tell. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence; do we gravitate towards one another or is bullying just so pervasive in our society? I wonder too if much has changed at schools since, but I doubt it. In this age of cyber bullying, there’s still silence and stigma around the topic and not enough raising awareness along the lines of To This Day.

The reasons for bullying seem different but at heart are always the same. I don’t think it matters really why you were bullied: your looks, your clothes, the way you talk, your family, your grades – these are all just pretexts and shallow explanations. I was bullied for a variety of such reasons, sometimes total opposites, yet at the heart of it was difference– being somehow different combined with being in a minority, in a weaker position relative to a larger peer group.

You’ll find people who experienced bullying in all walks of life and on every side of the spectrum: too smart – not smart enough, too pretty – not pretty, rich – poor, short – tall, dark – fair, foreign – local, introvert – extrovert. There’s no rule to it other than one person finding themselves in the unfortunate situation of standing apart and without an exit route in sight. Bullies fear and envy as often as they hate and despise, they come in all flavors.

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My mother who has a very different personality from me and who is the rolemodel teacher I always thought I’d become, got bullied all the way up to adulthood. She once told me that it’s not just the bullied who never forget but bullies too; that they remember their acts always and often regret them. I somehow doubt that’s true as a rule but when she attended her highschool reunion only a few months ago after much deliberation, she came back from an evening of late closure. A whole bunch of her old male colleagues, now grey-haired and retired, came up to tell her “I’m sorry I was such a dick”. I was happy for her. None of her female colleagues apologized.

Bullying affects us in life, sometimes for as long as it affected my mother. The old saying of “sticks and stones” was coined by a person who never suffered any bullying or other verbal and mental abuse in their life. Some are lucky to overcome the after-effects of bullying or escape relatively unscathed; for others it remains a deeply unsettling and destructive experience which alters their behavior and expectations in social contexts. I consider myself fortunate that after six years of tummy aches before school in the morning, I escaped my social environment by leaving for the Gymnasium. From that moment in time, my entire social life took a 180° degree turn – just like that. Suddenly I belonged, when I had done absolutely nothing different. I still talked the same, dressed the same, looked the same but everything else had changed. Like Finney, I had been adopted by the right environment, for me.

From there, my self-confidence was allowed to recover and prosper. I’ve had nothing but good to great times at college and university and I am thankful they overwrote much of what I had gone through before and put things into perspective: I didn’t cause the bullying. It wasn’t a fault within me and I did not deserve it. None of us do.

Thank god for growing up and becoming more independent and free to save yourself and find your own people.

No Retrospective Rationalization

These days I carry scars from bullying but no aching wounds. I frankly don’t care to attend school reunions but neither do I feel personally encumbered anymore by the cruelty I experienced as a ground schooler. I could talk about how bullying may have added to my personal independence and self-confidence later in life, or how it’s made me protective of others – but that conclusion would be fatal and is one I chose not to make. All of us who are here are survivors; we’ve been through dark times, some of us more than others, and our pain has forced us to grow. Yet as much as it is in my nature to look at upsides, I would always choose not to be bullied at all. Ever.

And not everyone who was bullied at a point in their life gets a chance to rewrite that history. Bullying is hard to prevent and even harder to stop when in full motion, even for someone in close proximity. However in the age of the internet, that fickle beast, we’re given an amazing chance to connect with others, discover similar stories and hear about people overcoming adversity. You can reach out, you can make yourself known and be there to listen. Or you can tell your own story so somebody out there may know they are not alone, that it’s not their fault and that they won’t be stuck in that wrong place for all time.

Sometimes the difference between hope and despair is touching a single other mind that knows.

BRB: Summer Update

I have been shamefully neglectful of this blog and am afraid to say, this trend is likely to continue for a while longer! To make up for this, here’s a picture of the Oreo cheesecake I made yesterday:

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It was delicious and worth all ten thousand calories. I used this recipe.

I hope you are all well, that is the assumed ‘you’ – everyone out there and still around in some shape or form, blogging or not but frequenting this little place from time to time. Judging from other blogs I’ve visited of late, summer break has generally slowed things down, that is if you’re not among those desperately awaiting Legion.

What I’ve been up to

I have no immediate plans for a new MMO this year. I’m currently going through a bit of a FFXIV blues which led me to cancel my subscription temporarily, until a time when I feel like grinding a hundred dungeons for gear tokens again. I still log into BDO now and again, mostly to explore new content and hang in my house which is both fabulous and entirely without purpose. I had a stab at Stardew Valley and Recettear during the Steam summer sale, neither of which stuck because I really detest the control schemes (and I have no wish to mess around with a controller).

Black Desert Online aside, this year’s best plays so far have been Portal Knights and Overwatch for me and am awaiting new patches eagerly for both. I also really want to get back into The Witcher 3, once time allows or rather my general mood. Oh and before I forget: I’ve had some sexy time with the HTC Vive which is wonderful and amazing and so much better than I ever thought it would be! I am getting myself a Vive as soon as possible (preferably when there’s a lighter 2.0 version).

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Summer isn’t for sitting in front of the desk. I’ve spent a lot of time this year re-building both physical and mental fitness and I feel better than I have in a very long time. I’ve taken up a new work position three weeks ago which so far, has proven to be the perfect mix of professional progress and life balance I’ve been looking for. I’ve learned a lot about mindfulness and self-compassion in the past few months, which is an ongoing process, so above all my current goal is to remain in harmony with myself. That sounds horribly hipster and carrot juice but it’s all about not losing yourself out there in this stressy and messy world and remembering priorities. That includes remembering yourself and I’m glad I took some time off to do that.

Having said this, I’m off to Italy next week to enjoy the Italian sun, cuisine and Mediterranean sea for a while. I’ve packed Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warnings” as well as Kingdom Hearts Unchained and Seabeard on tablet, in case that media withdrawal strikes. There’s not going to be a new episode of Battle Bards next week but on the 19th, in case you’ll be looking for it. We did a really cool show on adventure tunes end of June.

Business shall resume on this blog when it shall. I’ve done this many times before, so worry not – meanwhile I will be lurking in the usual corners and twitter. Hugs to my blogging buddies and friends keeping their pens sharp and minds sharper! You know who you are.

Happy summer break everybody!

Off-Topic: The Day Books went away

There used to be a time when all my free moments were filled with reading trilogies, quintets and even septets of books. Whatever great new fantasy series came in sight, I got them. Alternatively, classics and poetry in German and English. On weekends, a book a day wasn’t a rare occasion. I’d get one-volume editions for everything too, monstrous tomes I’d carry around with me to Uni every day while commuting. Two thirds of the space in my student flea bag were taken up by whatever novel I was reading at the time – and don’t even try talking to me in the train or bus compartment!

I needed books, studied books, books were all around me. While I was living off cornflakes and instant noodles, I spent whatever money I had left after rent and food on collector’s editions and illustrated novels. I was (and am) cheap about almost every other expense in my life but never literature. There is inherent value in words put down for eternity.

I have barely read 10 books this entire year of 2015, I can’t even remember. Half of them must’ve been short story collections, too. The year before was even worse than that. I blame game-related activities such as blogging, podcasting and twitter taking over the past decade, yet it’s not like I am not also keeping up with other media like TV shows. And so I marvel – what ever has happened to me and books? My evergreens and favourites are still neatly arranged on many a shelf on my walls, so why is it so hard for new series to pique my interest? Why do I feel so burnt out and more of the same?

It’s like books take too much effort now, starting with how to pick one. Have I become one of those instant gratification kids that don’t have the attention span for literature anymore and only consume visual or narrated media?? What a dreadful thought!

Lovely wonderful books, I miss you…. :(

Now not so never-ending...

Now not so never-ending…

P.S. Yes, two off-topic posts in a row! I must be outgrowing game blogging now too! *panic*