This week was a rough one, my friends.
In fact, it's been a rough couple of weeks. And I'm certainly not the only one.
Our presidential race is one of life or death, where our moral conscience hangs in the balance.
My nation is still full of selfish idiots that have prolonged a pandemic to the point of insanity.
My profession has been lauded as heroism then immediately thrown to the wolves to be torn asunder, and burned at the stakes of sacrifice.
And at the first sign of trouble, no matter the climate, it is ALWAYS the teacher's fault.
Student didn't turn in the work? My fault. Student called me names? I must have upset him. Student hates my guts because they got a bad grade? I didn't try hard enough to reach them and I should just, ya know, LIE about their grade so they feel better.
And when we see positive COVID cases in schools, they'll blame our protocols and our distancing, and NOT ONCE look at their stupid barbecue without masks or distance. Yeah, definitely OUR fault. Has NOTHING to do with your downplaying of a deadly contagion and refusing simple safety procedures like washing your hands and, I don't know, not coughing on people!
And I think I finally landed on the reason I stepped away from teaching for a year to pursue game mastering professionally...and why I ultimately returned, but we'll get there.
A Life Outside The Music
Anyone who knows me understands that I went to college with many interests, yet achieved quite a lot in academia. After deciding NOT to create my own major in Screenwriting & Film Music (still, that would have been very cool), I settled on Music Education. At the time, I figured I could teach during the day, and, like a superhero, pursue my other creative endeavors (Composing, comics, drawing, video editing) until they really started making some moolah. ...Hang on to that idea, it is the crux of this entry.
Long story short, the music education degree was a powerhouse of training. Hundreds of hours locked in practice rooms perfecting a tuba recital (and it was still crap), studying pedagogy of all the "great" music teachers only to make my own adaptive curriculum every year because the setting is outdated in each book (seriously, you can have the greatest lesson plan, but if you don't learn some classroom management, you're screwed), and then breezing through the simple papers in the School Of Education after the hell of the School Of Fine Arts. Seriously, we had to cut our teeth on endless rehearsals, intense training in every instrument, quarterly playing tests, building our own instruments, memorizing every sound bite of music history, sing and play everything with a near-perfect pitch, listen to a symphony and transcribe EACH INDIVIDUAL PART, and fully analyze the theoretical merits of the Futurist Movement... ALL BEFORE entering the School Of Education with all the other majors. By then, any paper they threw at us was NOTHING. Barely a blip on our radar. For all my struggling, sleepless nights, bad breakups, and insane rehearsals only to scrounge barely a 2.5 GPA, I rocked the last two years in the School Of Ed with a 4.0 easy and I slept great.
And I'm no genius. I just work hard.
By the end of that 6 year journey, I'm holding two Bachelors Degrees and an Initial Certification, and a whole bunch of workable knowledge for composing. One album and one year later subbing for everyone I could find, I decided I still didn't know enough and returned to the punishment for another two years and got my Masters Of Music Education Technology, and then spent the next 8 years paying off THAT debt (woohoo).
I was working throughout my Masters Program, and I continued to hop around districts for a couple years there, a couple years here, and picking up extra subbing gigs to supplement my income. Not once have I ever held a full-time position over the last 10 years of teaching music, which should you tell you a few things about the market of a Board Of Education and how little so many value the arts (not something they tell you when you're throwing thousands of dollars at a college program). Slowly, I was able to expand and cultivate my positions from 4 jobs to 3, then 2, and kept 2 jobs for some time.
Then, I interviewed to teach D&D. And that exploded. As you've already read about.
And as that began to expand, it helped open the door in my soul to all the things I had sealed away in order to make ends meet. In becoming a professional game master, all of my educational training came to fruition, AND I was given not only the opportunity but the follow-through of my smaller professional pursuits. I started writing music again. Writing short fiction. Designing comics. We started a podcast. I breathed new life into my YouTube channel.
With each new step, I was reforging and rekindling all the things just outside of traditional teaching that made me...happy. And now, here's a business model that not only makes me my own boss, but celebrates and networks all of my other pursuits. In a profession that often threatens to define you, I was encouraged to be MORE than a music teacher.
And for a time, it was beautiful.
Living Is Expensive
To deny that money is the driving force behind the majority of our decisions is to tempt the universe to kick the crap out of you and argue that it shouldn't matter.
My car needs repairs, electricity just tripled its delivery fee, house ownership sometimes feels like a trap, insurance is worthless - cuz you're paying anyway - and I'm convinced my car payment is cursed. Somewhere in there we need to eat, and the rest needs to be saved so as to escape the crushing reality that I'm only working to live and living only to work. I must be doing SOMETHING more than simply perpetuating.
And yet, when I was there, I felt fulfilled - needed - powerful - important - satisfied. And, with every paycheck, felt more and more helpless. Debt was rising. Selling everything I could for a quick buck. Offering extra services, some only half-formed, just to keep the lights on. All the while trying to desperately to hold onto that fire in my belly - the same inspiration I'd walk out of a team meeting with, ready to take on the world.
But the hits kept coming, We'd rally, then fall. Over and over again, until the business closed.
And I needed a job.
A Return To Security
So with a ton of experience still, and only a year away from the public sector, still teaching mind you, I set to work finding a new and old place to reside. My previous school offered me my old job back due to a sudden opening, and that meant we'd at least return to more of the same (.25 teaching assignment, woof). And then I nailed another placement at a different school (.5 assignment, better), and the two were happy to play nice with my schedule. With the latter's reassurance that full-time was coming, I would later trim down to one school...in the middle of a pandemic.
This Is Not Normal Time (Yet It Is All-Consuming)
This is where we are. Still.
I have returned to the school. Doing one main job professionally, while trying to maintain those side gigs (that used to be full gigs) to keep my sanity. And, all things considered, it's going very well.
My responsibilities expanded (not yet full-time, but it helps) and I'm there everyday. The kids are pretty darn cool and for the first time in 10 years, I'm able to teach music the way I've always wanted to. We're connecting, we're rocking, we're doing our best. It also doesn't hurt that I can pay the bills without worry; it's still tight, but I'm no longer desperate.
And yet, I am struggling. Immensely so.
For a time, I could not surmise nor articulate WHY I was struggling so much. I wish I could say this was some point of clarity; rolling a Natural 20 while I Insight Check myself, but the closer parallel would be a training montage of failure. Complete with 80s Synthwave and bad acting.
Gone are the days of me actively "closing my loops." I'll make my usual checklists of the past, but by the time the school day ends and I return home, I have NOTHING left to tackle these tasks. And many of these actions would make me REALLY HAPPY AND SATISFIED. Yet, I have little spell slots to dedicate to them. In fact, for a few days this week, I chose to go to bed early instead of writing this blog. That's NEVER happened before.
Am I just getting old?
Drying up and embracing boredom?
I still have surges of motivation and creativity...but they are fleeting. I can only hold on to that happy motivation for minutes or even seconds at a time, then I'm exhausted.
I have to keep telling myself that this isn't "normal time," so I shouldn't give myself normal expectations. And this is important to recognize. Do not be cruel to yourself over elements you cannot control, and be open to the changes and silver linings present in our current climate.
But there's a big difference in the tolerance and forgiveness of bad behavior, and the cultivation of poor habits. Forgive yourself, sure, but if you take no steps forward toward a goal, instead opting to always "be kind to yourself," you're only building a new habit of laziness. There's resting and recharge, and then there's using this plight as an excuse to avoid personal growth.
My personal fitness has taken a hit, and that SHOULD NOT BE OKAY. Not anymore. Why? Because I WANT to be healthy, COVID or not. Adapt your plan, sure, but don't toss it out the window just because the world's on fire. At least not every day. Be flexible, sure, but get creative on how you can still accomplish your tasks and crush your goals. Forgive yourself, sure, but try again the next day, and the next, and the next until you've got it down.
I have so many posts planned for Lore Drop, yet each is just a string of sentences and then my brain turns to jelly. I had planned out another ten fictions for Gray Owls, yet here we are at the end of the campaign. I have multitudes of podcast and video content to finish, and two commissions to write, and more painting to do...they've all taken far too long to be professional in normal time. This isn't normal time, and yet I expect myself to produce as if it were, and this doesn't change the fact that they MUST get done.
So when does your forgiveness give way to laziness? When does our lack of communication breed dishonesty? When does our tolerance allow hate to grow unchecked?
This isn't normal time. No, it is grow time.
We learn the most when in disequilibrium. So no matter what table you sit around, or what metaphor you cling to, remember that this time isn't a moment to wallow. This is your time to rebuild, to work on yourself, and decide who you will be on the other end.
I, for one, will strive to be better, with full knowledge that I won't look the same as before.
Welcome to the new you. Bring them to the table.
Irish Cream is the bomb-diggity.
Blame my sheltered alcoholic journey, but never have I ever encountered something so darn delicious in such a neat package. And to learn that it's excellent all on its own! And experience it first hand? While experimenting? Oh joyous evening!
For those unaware, Irish Cream is a liqueur of cream, cocoa, and Irish Whiskey. It is often enjoyed on its own over ice, or employed to augment your ice cream, coffee, hot chocolate, and various other sweet tooth things. However, it spirals far beyond this use; put it in some cola and be amazed. A little amaretto added in? Amazing!
The Mindflayer, via Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies (The Tavern)
This time around we put the lens back on a great YouTube channel led by a great DM. Most of his recipes I enjoy (though they can get pretty sweet), but this one I was concerned about. It just didn't look...right. Let's take a look.
"Eyeball" Recipe (meaning no exact measurements)
1 part Triple Sec
1 part Irish Cream
Splash of Grenadine
Splash of Black Sambuca
Directions: you pour about half a shot of Triple Sec, then carefully float Irish Cream on top to fill the rest. Splash of Grenadine, and a drop or two of Black Sambuca.
Drink it down shortly after - don't wait too long (I explain why below)
It might remind you of the classic Brain Hemorrhage shot, which is usually Peach Schnapps and Irish Cream, with a few drops of Grenadine (again, I'll explain).
I have a problem with this drink, and its fault lies in its chemistry. When the Grenadine hits the Irish Cream, there's a congealing reaction. Sure, it looks cool, but that brain-like blob is becoming a stringy solid. The longer you wait to drink it (and it ain't long), the more your gag reflex is going to register that something is wrong. Maybe I'm just odd, but I don't feel like chewing my shots.
How I'd fix it? ...Just don't use the Grenadine. You lose the "bloody" visual, but the Grenadine doesn't seem necessary in the first place - it sinks to the bottom and gets stuck there - and its flavor doesn't match the rest of the suite. My first go was interesting enough, but my second without the pomegranate syrup was infinitely better.
When you have something like the Brain Hemorrhage Shot, this "stringy" effect is intentional; it's not meant to feel right. And I think this variation on a theme has the same intention.
...I just don't like it.
The Dennisen (Den Variation)
In one of my Lore Drop posts, we wrote about an Illithid Corsair named Dennisen Thuul. A Mindflayer of sophistication and tactics, and, despite his nature to consume brain matter, an otherwise strict gentleman. Sure, Mindflayers are scary, but how interesting would it be to blend that terror with a measure of cool and calm? How do you make a drink unsettling but still...intoxicating?
Well, let's stick with Irish Cream for one.
Though we've already explored my distaste for the entire brand of mixology that pursues curdling creamy liqueurs on purpose, there are plenty of lovely pairings for Irish Cream. Ice cream, coffee, cocoa...these are delicious and obvious.
Coming from that vein, we'll find Frangelico (Hazelnut liqueur), Kahlua (coffee liqueur), and sometimes Grand Marnier (orange liqueur) as excellent pairings, though not always together. Vodka and Frangelico pops up here and there.
And then I found the Tequila.
I'm a fan of Gold Tequila, I'm finding, and though when this pops up in research, there are no other additions, so (when you're not following my brain path) try equal parts Irish Cream and Gold Tequila, then pour over ice.
I'm thinking that will be the "weird" that I'm craving. The rest should work well in tandem.
Does Frangelico go well with Tequila? Yes! That's the base for a "Nutty Tequila."
Grand Marnier definitely pairs well (because that's how Margaritas work).
Kahlua and Tequila? That's the "Brave Bull".
BUT. If I learned anything from mixing 5 rums together only to produce the blandest rubbing alcohol I've ever experienced...things that go well in pairs could be catastrophic in trios and quads. So we'll build it slowly.
2 oz Irish Cream + 1 oz Frangelico = is beautiful. No question. And it matches; OF COURSE these flavor palettes go well together.
2 oz Irish Cream + 1 oz Frangelico + 1 oz Kahlua = something still quite lovely. So far, we're still par for the course though. We're using creamy, nutty flavors built for each other. Next, we start to turn things sideways.
2 oz Irish Cream + 1 oz Frangelico + 1 oz Kahlua + 1/2 oz Grand Marnier = ...this is where the differences begin to show. A slight tang, like an orange dipped in chocolate ice cream. Just a tad strange, with a pleasant middle, and a whiskey finish. Stop here if you want the First Mate Version.
2 oz Irish Cream + 1 oz each of Frangelico and Kahlua + 1/2 oz each of Grand Marnier and Gold Tequila.
...My gods. The drink has fundamentally CHANGED.
Tequila in general is a powerful flavor, and I tested it with only the Irish Cream before trying this out, and the result was an assault of tequila. All mixed here, though, you NEED the Grand Marnier. All paired with the cocoa whiskey base, it smooths the weird sharpness of the tequila. I wanted unsettling, but good, and I think I got the right amount of weird.
If it's too weird for you, just don't add the tequila. No foul, First Mate.
Imbibe responsibly, and don't lose your brain.
There's a favorite red drink among bartenders that holds a less-flattering terminology that I probably can't repeat on this blog (about drinking, no less), so let's just refer to it as a Red-Headed...Lady, cuz what she does with her body is entirely HER choice.
It is a sweet and fruity drink that is wholly deceptive. It's meant to knock you on your butt before you know what hit you...or why you just pounded down three of them over a tasty hour or so. Oops.
The Red-Headed Lady - Classic Version
For this you need Jaegermeister, Peach Schnapps, and some Cranberry Juice. Ratio goes 1-1-2.
For the laymen:
1 oz. Jaegermeister
1 oz Peach Schnapps
2 oz Cranberry Juice
Shake in a mixer with ice and pour into a few shots or a shooter glass.
...And yet, though that be the classic recipe, that ain't how a lot of people enjoy this drink. Sure, order this at a bar in shot form, and you'll get a nice fruity Jaegerbomb with Cranberry, but let me share with you a few other variations.
Other Ways Of Enjoying Your Lady
VARIATION 1 - Jaegerlite
Maybe you're not a fan of the German licorice herbal liqueur and you'd like a bit less. In that case, we adjust the ratios a tad.
1/2 oz Jaegermeister
2 oz Peach Schnapps
3 oz Cranberry Juice
**This one's more of a drink than a shot, unless you're up for a few in a row.
VARIATION 2 - The Red Shirley
Splash of Jaegermeister
2 oz Peach Schnapps
3 oz Cranberry Juice
Fill with Sprite
**I am convinced that THIS concoction is what the bartender kept giving my fiancé at her bachelorette party. And, as she normally HATES Jaegermeister, this drink's minimal use of a key ingredient makes perfect sense.
VARIATION 3 - The Red Crown
1 oz Jaegermeister
1 oz Peach Schnapps
1 oz Crown Royal
1 oz Cranberry Vodka
VARIATION 4 - Red-Headed Cowgirl
1 oz Southern Comfort
1 oz Rye Whiskey
2 oz Raspberry Liqueur
Heck, there's even one that brings champagne to the mix. If you want to feel special, I guess you could add a splash of Coca-Cola to the original recipe and call yourself Lindsey Lohan.
Moonriver Take - The Incubus
It's deceptive and tasty. We have to both bind the flavors of the Jaeger with the Peach, then throw in a twist to both darken and smooth out the palette...without completely derivative. I choose dark, smooth, and a little spicy, just like one of my favorite monsters to run in a mature game.
VARIATION 5 - The Incubus
1 oz Jaegermeister
1 oz Peach Schnapps
2 oz Raspberry Liqueur
1 oz Aftershock (cinnamon liqueur)
1 oz Amaretto
Fill with Sprite
Sweet, seductive, with a little spice.
The Dark and Stormy is often considered a variation on a Mule. A little alcohol and some ginger beer. However, for my first casual Drinking and Dragons, I was inspired by an excellent barkeep online who shared
The Classic Dark and Stormy
The Dark and Stormy is a classic for a reason. It's easy and it's yummy. Don't try so hard.
Take your desired glass.
Pour in 2 oz of dark rum
Then fill the rest with Ginger Beer
If you're feeling sassy, splash in a little lime juice and ice.
The Storm Giant - by Palm Of Vecna, via Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies
I wish I could take credit for this one.
There's an excellent channel on the YouTubes called Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies. The creator ran a separate show for a brief time called "The Tavern" where he shares, mixes, and tastes drinks he's drafting. It's good content and you should check it out (click the name in the section title above). One of his cast members created this beauty.
STORM GIANT RECIPE
3 oz Kraken or Oakheart rum
1.5 oz Moonshine
1 can of Ginger Beer
Pour this simple mix into a large mug with ice and enjoy!
The Thunderstep (Den Draft)
The first time I mixed The Storm Giant, it absolutely required ice and a straw due to sheer volume. It was also bloody tasty, so I wanted to try my hand at something similar. I wanted it to be yummy and STRONG, without knowing it. So you enjoy it, then feel the thunder. Just like a certain spell I know. Warning: this is a One Drink Wonder. Make one and done.
4 oz Captain Morgan (spiced rum)
4 oz Root Beer liqueur
3 oz Moonshine
1 can of Dr. Pepper
Pour all into a large goblet or stein, add ice, sit back, and enjoy.
It makes a lot. It IS for a GIANT, after all.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
Mondays: Patreon Mini
Tuesday: Lore Drop
Wednesday: Other Corners
Thursday: Moonriver Bar
Friday: Podcast goes up!
Saturday: GM's Corner
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