The Little Things – A Tale of Rygar’s First Victory Over the Evil Lygar, Perseverance and How Little Actions Often Matter Most.

As we approach Father’s Day this year I found myself reminiscing with Grant about great moments in gaming that I had with my dad. Now while dad wasn’t really what one might call a “gamer”, he did still enjoy some games, especially in the early days of the NES. We had an especially fond connection in regards to games in which the setting was based on the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome. That is where our tale begins today…

To say growing up in rural Alabama was a little weird for me would be quite the understatement. While gaming is a pretty widely accepted hobby these days it was mostly the realm of the “nerdy” kids at my school. I played sports and such mostly because that was what my friends enjoyed, but I never really developed much interest in it. It was great exercise, though and I’m glad I had that in my life. I liked drawing and painting and games and generally just playing imaginatively even into my teenage years. That worked its way into Role Playing Games eventually, but that is a different tale. As we approach Father’s Day I just thought I’d relay a short tale about my dad and how awesome and thoughtful he was regarding me and my rather unique interests. It’s also a fine opportunity to share one of the most unique adventure games I have ever played.

When I was small and our NES was still quite fresh I had a pretty unique way of getting games – at least I have realized in retrospect. As it was the only way I ever purchased new games it was just the way it was done at the time and never gave it much thought. Going to town was pretty unusual for us, so when I had finally mowed enough yards or raked enough leaves to be able to buy a new one I would just hand enough money to dad when he and my mom went out on a trip or date or a regular trip to the store. This was an awesome way of handling it on dad’s part as I really valued every game that I worked for and as a bonus he never failed to bring back an interesting title though he oddly avoided the “big name” games of the time. Being a fan of mythology he mostly stuck to games that seemed to be related to that genre. Trojan, Rygar and Kid Icarus were three true treasures that came out of this mutual interest we shared. Most gamers with any experience in the retro realm are probably familiar with Kid Icarus, though the other two are perhaps of less renown. Rygar, however, was one of the true hidden gems dad found for me and I still enjoy playing it on occasion today.

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Just check out those locations!  What an interesting and varied world lay before Rygar to explore.

Rygar is a side-scrolling hybridized with an isometric top down adventure game that actually has some RPG-style elements. Wow, how is that for covering all of the bases?  Rygar, the main character, actually advances in strength and toughness with each monster he defeats. This means that the player can essentially power up without limits. The downside, as a kid with no real understanding of exactly how this worked, I was constantly annoyed at how tough the bosses and even some regular enemies were and how quickly they could defeat me. It was my dad who actually figured this out. The instruction manual was a bit vague but somehow he pieced together the rather archaic information presented there and simple game-play experience and found that with a good bit of battling Rygar could take down even the bosses with ease. The problem? No save feature. That’s right – Rygar is an RPG-style adventure game that you have to complete in a single session. Once that power button has been hit (or your little brother bonks the NES with a badly thrown ball) you get to start from scratch.

As I mentioned, my dad isn’t really a gamer, but he made it a point to play games with me anyway. Looking back now as a dad myself I realize how awesome that was of him to take the time to do something as silly as playing some NES with his “weird” son when he likely had little or no interest in the game itself. It has really influenced the way I behave as a parent and how I view time with my son today. All of this culminated in the day that I beat the game for the first time with an amazing bit of help from my dad who was absolutely being the hero of the day, giving me a great “boost” but allowing his boy to nail the “slam dunk” and win the day… indulge me in sports reference!

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The “Big Bad Bot” himself, whom my dad found was accessible early in the game if you were a sneaky guardian of Argool…

I woke one Saturday morning when dad was about to go to work. He had gotten up early and fired up Rygar. He had found a particular enemy that I suspect was meant to be a deterrent – a tough, higher level opponent that would tell the player “you’re not strong enough yet, come back later”. Dad had fought that guy repeatedly (this is in the days of easily respawning baddies by simply moving the screen off of their spawn location. He had found this big nasty “robot dude” that shot powerful wave beams at you. They did a lot of damage and the robot took a ton of hits to defeat, but dad had been defeating him for who-knows-how-long, and had gotten to the point where Rygar had become so strong that he was able to defeat the thing with a single attack! Dad showed me his accomplishment, smiled and headed off to work simply telling me to let him know if I was able to beat Lygar (the final boss) this time around, knowing I had been struggling with that final battle each time I had made it that far.

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A few of the bosses.  Unique patterns, projectiles, movement (or in Lapis’ case, not moving from its floating platform..)!  How exciting it was to make it to each of these big baddies and how awesome it felt to take them down with all of that dad-assisted power!

No kidding, the first three bosses were beaten so quickly that I was able to simply rush through the game. The first boss went down to a single hit! Dad had really given ol’ Rygar the workout of his life and he was ready to save Argool! Rygar and I steamrolled that game with no trouble after my dad’s significant “boost”, and I was super proud to tell him how it had gone when he made it back home. I was able to repeat the trick he had shown me soon after in order to share the game’s ending with him and this simple strategy and the patience it taught me in the form of proper preparation is a lesson I value to this day both in games and reality (who says games aren’t educational?!). This is easily one of the simplest yet fondest memories I have of something cool my dad did for me. No trip to the beach or Disney World. No pony or car. Just a simple gesture of taking interest and helping me in something I was interested in, so keep that in mind all of you parents and grandparents out there. Even if the child doesn’t quite seem to comprehend in the moment, those little things we do for them as parents, those simple little choices and seemingly silly games we play along with them now could impact and influence them the rest of their lives!

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Lygar’s inner sanctum lies inside the maze of his floating castle which is itself epic.  Guarded by “shadow” versions of many of the game’s toughest enemies, it is quite a trek.  Lygar himself is no pushover as he spits.. teeth?  Thorns?  Some weird projectile.  I remember as a kid I decided they were poisonous teeth from his serpent arms, as they were obviously responsible for my repeated demise.  But not this day, Lygar!  Today he falls and Argool is freeeeeed!

Now just to make a few more notes on Rygar, I’ll link some gameplay footage on Link Plays Games YouTube channel for those interested. Don’t be deceived by the games old, pixelated style as it’s quite a lot of fun. It is simple at a glance but involves a fair amount of searching and some of the NPCs offer legitimately useful clues which was sadly rare in those days of yesteryear. It is reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda in that the world is quite open and the player is left to find their way around. Some areas are restricted by items needed to access them, which keeps the player in safer zones until Rygar has toughened up sufficiently but from my experience one can move much faster than the game may expect and it is not hard to find oneself tackling enemies and especially bosses that are nearly impossible to defeat without a bit of “grinding” to increase Tone which is Rygars measure of attack power and Last, his measure of toughness (how many health bubbles Rygar has).

Rygar’s weapon of choice is certainly unique.  Now I have heard the rumor that yo-yos were originally used as weapons and while I am no historian and not particularly interested in weapons and warfare in general I sadly cannot discount the tendency for humans to weaponize pretty much anything (remember that catapult in Monty Python.. they weaponize a cow for goodness sakes!).  If those ancient yo-yo-weapons were anything like Rygar’s diskarmor, I’ll believe it though.  He makes it look quite deadly at his side and can whip it with startling speed.  It is really cool to see some variation on the typical weapons used in games at that time in any case and it makes for a cool visual.

Rygar must navigate his way around the world and battle past the five bosses in the world in order to access the various tools and powers needed to be able to assault Lygar’s floating fortress – which at the time of the games making was a site to behold. That level’s rather sinister and anxious music is still pretty firmly embedded in my mind from those early years of assaulting that maze-like castle.

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Sinister floating castle that is viewable early in the game from the tallest tower in the first bosses domain yet still unreachable til the game is near complete?  Epic NES foreshadowing, check!

I cannot say that there is a tremendous need to practice so much as patience to power up Rygar. In today’s world of save-states it isn’t as much of a problem, as one can actually pick up when convenient at the point previously reached but when the game was originally released this was a major limiting factor! Count your blessings fellow gamers. It is also the first “metroid-vania” style game I ever played, requiring a fair amount of backtracking over previously visited areas after different items had been gained.  It also had a pretty unique “hub-world” which the player doesn’t actually begin from, instead having to battle through the games first few sections in order to reach it.  This is the first game I had ever played which used the “tutorial stage” setup, in which the game is learned in the first area and allows for experimentation without tremendous potential for loss.  As Rygar works his way along those beginning cliffs and mountains, checking doors, caves and often reaching dead ends, the game also hints at the fact that it is going to require a bit of searching and exploring to find the correct paths.  All in all it is well worth the effort and Argool and Rygar will thank you for your effort in all of their 8-bit glory (think pixelated doves and rainbows.. majestic).

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Thought I was kidding?  Proof.  Enjoy.  Majestic.  It’s the friggin’ door of peace, respect it!  Lygar was the last joker to try closing it and you heard what happened to that guy, right?

The Plant-Powered Gamers strongly recommend giving the game a try if you ever have the chance.

Dad, thanks for being awesome. Happy Father’s Day.

PlantPoweredGamers
Grow Strong. Game On.

Fasting and Fasting-mimicking diet – conclusion

I have officially concluded my period of fasting with an extension of “Fasting-Mimicking” to make up a 5-day total. So how did it go?

Surprisingly I had very little problem with hunger or even thinking much about food on day 4 and 5. I was even able to do a light workout of pull-ups, push-ups and yoga with some band work on day 5 with no particular problem of fatigue.

For my first “regular” meal I oddly just wanted a larger serving of what had become my favorite while on the plan – roasted veggies with tofu. This is essentially a pan of chopped red cabbage, carrots and vidalia (sweet) onion, seasoned with a mix of white and black pepper and roasted at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. When finished I topped them with black olives.  One thing that I have always noticed and enjoyed when doing these kinds of resets and challenges – it really helps me appreciate the simple flavors of the food without really having to add much to them or alter them beyond some very basic prep. As a bonus a fairly small meal now feels quite satiating, my calorie log is only now approaching the 1200 mark which is quite low for me on a usual day. Not to fear, considering that it is 1200 calories of whole-food plants, all of my nutrient goals for the day were easily met. Tofu, spinach, kale and olives are the star players there, packing a huge nutritional punch with very little caloric burden.

I enjoyed my additional time each day when there was less need to be in the kitchen.  I also did a better job actually practicing my breathing exercises and yoga, both of which I do fairly regularly but could still stand to get them into my schedule a bit more often. There is also a heightened sense of presence that always seems to take hold with me when I do any sort of fasting.  It makes sense to me that so many spiritual traditions include them as a practice. I wouldn’t be able to explain the psychology of this at all, but I personally find it to be the case that I just feel a bit more awake and aware.  It also never fails to impress me at just how adaptable we are.

An additional note, anyone wishing to pursue fasting in any form should get advice from an expert – which I certainly am not! Please check into some of the resources and do a little research. If in doubt, let your primary physician or chiropractor know what you are up to in case they can offer guidance or suggestions. I mention chiropractic doctors because the two best we have ever worked with were quite knowledgeable in regards to diet and nutrition, but I suspect like physicians this is a case-by-case basis.  Also, while fasting and fasting-mimicking show promise for being healthy in limited, controlled ways, it certainly would not be advisable to use them for long-term or as a primary method of weight loss. Dr. Longo’s fasting-mimicking diet is only recommended for at most 5 days at a time and under rather controlled nutritional guidelines and he even cautions the reader in regards to the potential dangers of lengthy water-only fasts.  Please do your due diligence before setting out on any new path and research a bit!

Just to add a few additional resources, please see Dr. Andrew Weil’s web page and his book, Eight Weeks to Optimum Health.  These were the starting point for me as I tried to find my way to a healthier and happier state of being.  His advice was the first to point me in the direction of occasional, seasonal fasting and even partial/limited fasting.  Again I have to recommend Dr. Valter Longo’s book as well, The Longevity Diet.  It is a treasure trove of information and also contains some examples of what diet was like in rural Italy for him as a child which I found interesting and delightful.  Simple recipe ideas?  You bet!

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Plant Powered Chocolate Muffin-top Baked “Pancakes”

After deciding to go completely whole-foods plant-based vegan a little over two years ago we were a bit worried that it would be difficult to come up with proper substitutes and alterations of “classic” meals and recipes.  Thanks to a few wonderful cookbooks and bloggers that I have to give a shoutout to below (see the end of the post) we made it through and at this point have even developed our own recipes based off of what they taught us.

Breakfast was one of the trickier situations.  After removing all of the typical meat products in the “Standard American Diet” which are so common at breakfast time, removing eggs, butter and yogurt we were pretty much left with toast.  Even in the case of toast we had to do a little searching to find bread that did not contain milk or eggs.  Fortunately we were already vegetarian at the point we made this change so we had already managed to work around the breakfast meat problem.  No dead animals for breakfast seemed like a win from the earliest notion, after all.

Pancakes have always frustrated me.  They tend to do well with a brand new non-stick pan but eventually begin sticking, burning or tearing and generally just make a mess after the pan has been used a few times, even with very careful use in my experience.  One day I had had enough and decided just to bake them instead.  The first few tries were kind of tricky, deciding the correct length of time and exactly how thick to make the batter, but over time I’ve learned how to get it exactly to our liking

The Forks Over Knives Cookbook provided us with the primary building blocks for what became Grant’s favorite “pancake” recipe.  Two years of practice of making this at least 2-3 times a month we have worked it over to suit our style and the process has really opened my eyes to toying with baked goods in general as the process of adjusting and substituting in the original recipe has assisted me in creating versions of quite a few deserts, muffins and breads.  I’ve really found it an enjoyable challenge to work with the limitations and try to find work-arounds and replacements as I experiment with different recipes.  Lucky for me I have one of the most articulate and honest critiques one could hope for – my little boy!

Enough of the back story, let’s get to the recipe.

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The ingredients are lined up and ready to get to business.

Grant’s favorite Plant-powered “muffin-top style pancake” recipe:

1 Cup Whole Grain Flour – we use Spelt or Buckwheat usually if available, but they cook up fine with Whole Wheat too.  We like Bob’s Red Mill Spelt Flour and Arrowhead Mills Buckwheat Flour, but we aren’t afraid to try a new brand if there is a great sale at our Trader Joe’s or Sprouts stores.

1/3 Cup Oat Flour – This is just blended rolled oats if you like saving money.  If you’d rather not bother just replace with an extra 1/3 Cup flour of your choice.  This isn’t exactly rocket science, so they generally turn out just fine either way.  I usually make this call according to what is in the pantry at the time.

1 Tbsp Baking Soda

3 Tbsp Cocoa Powder

3 Tbsp Flaxseed Meal

1/4 tsp Salt

2 Tbsp Maca Powder

2 Tbsp Maple Syrup OR 4 drops Liquid Stevia Sweetener

2/3 Cup Applesauce or “Simpley Sweet Potatoes” – Hybrid style, mashed

1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar

2/3 Cup Plant-based milk alternative (Soy, Almond, Coconut, etc.)

2/3 Cup Water

2/3 Cup Chocolate Chips – Trader Joe’s brand is the most affordable dairy-free chips we have found.  These are okay to omit or reduce if you don’t have a huge sweet tooth.  Grant contends that they just don’t quite have their magic without the chocolate chips on top, though.  Reduce or remove at your own risk!

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Method

Preparation:  Preheat the oven to 400 Degrees Fareheit (200 C);  Line a baking pan with Parchment Paper or a Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat.

Step 1:  Mix the water, milk, vinegar and syrup together into a measuring cup or small bowl and set aside for at least 3-5 minutes.  The vinegar will curdle the milk slightly, creating a “vegan buttermilk”.

Step 2:  Combine all dry ingredients into a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

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Step 3:  Add the Applesauce into the middle of the dry ingredients then add the “buttermilk” mixture.  Mix until smooth and creamy.

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Step 4:  Stir in 1/2 of the chocolate chips (1/3 Cup).

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Step 5:  Scoop divide the batter onto the baking sheet into 12 “pancakes”.

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Step 6:  Bake for 16-18 minutes.

Step 7:  Remove from oven and let them rest for 3-5 minutes.

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Serve with Maple Syrup, berries, fruit, or nut butters… mix and match, experiment.  The possibilities seem endless!  Be creative and try whatever sounds tasty.

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Grant plated and arranged his breakfast himself for the photo op.  Congrats and thanks to my little sous chef!

Inspiration and Thanks

As mentioned above, the Plant Powered Gamers are strongly influenced by and owe much of the initial basis for this recipe to the following:

Chocolate Covered Katie’s Chocolate Brownie Batter Pancakes Recipe

Forks Over Knives Chocolate Pancakes Recipe (check the App Store if this is too pricey for you or just have no space for cookbooks.  They have a great deal at only $5 last I checked and regularly add new recipes for free)

Fasting – an Attempt at a 3-5 day Fast (with Fasting-mimicking dietary restriction as needed)

Fasting and intermittent fasting have been tossed around in various “health advice” circles for some time now.  I’ve read and followed some of it but wasn’t terribly convinced until I ran across a clip in a documentary that mentioned Valter Longo, a professor and researcher currently working at the University of Southern California who has produced some pretty amazing results in laboratory studies. His research is making its way into human testing and even direct marketing under the name ProLon.  Feel free to look into it and see what you think:  Dr. Valter Longo on fasting and “fasting-mimicking diets”.  Also check out his foundation’s page: The Valter Longo Foundation.  I was interested so I followed up with his new book: The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight.  Wow, that title is a mouthful!

I love a good challenge and the results looked promising, so after reading the book and listening to a few talks he has made (Here you can find his TedX Talk) I was ready to give it a try.  I have managed short fasts a few times in the past, usually using them as a sort of “reset” when I realized my diet wasn’t properly lining up with my values and plans. I am also prone to limited fasts, juice or fruit and juice only fasts during times of sickness which are thankfully quite rare. They seem to speed recovery but with an n=1 study of just myself I am giving that as my personal opinion only. There is certainly something to be said for placebo effect there and I cannot discount it.  In any case it was his rather convincing evidence of the acceleration of autophagy, which is our body’s way of dealing with old, worn out or disfunctional cells.  This helps both in general rejuvenation as well as cancer destruction; now really, who isn’t interested upon reading that?  With a load of different inflammatory disorders in my family history, my interest was also piqued at the idea of additional decrease in inflammation (which is part of the reason us Plantpowered Gamers  follow a rather strict whole-foods plant-based Vegan diet).

So how have I faired so far?

Well, I am writing this on day 3 of the fast. I actually managed two full days of water only (as well as herbal teas and a bit of lemon juice). On day 3 I brought back in a very restricted “Fasting Mimicking” dietary plan which so far has included Tofu, lots of leafy greens, olives, peanuts, tahini and a bit of broccoli. I will note that I was starting to get pretty fatigued near the end of day 2 which is largely why I shifted a day earlier than planned to the “FMD” plan. I originally wanted to do 3 full days of water only fasting followed by two fasting-mimicking days, mostly just to see how I handled it. It seems from the research he presents that 5 days of FMD gives essentially the same benefits of a full fast, so next time around I will probably just do 5 days of FMD instead and save myself the discomfort. I will note, however, that day one of the fast didn’t bother me at all so I may well stick with one day of water only. It is actually kind of cool to see how the body can react and adjust so readily to such a drastic change. I do wonder if my previous experience at fasting helped in this though, and I really have no way of knowing. It seems that one gets “better” or at least more capable of dealing with most things diet and exercise related, so I do wonder if fasting is something that one gets “better” at with practice. It will be interesting to see. In any case, I will probably make another update on day 5, so wish me luck!


Loaded with interesting information and research.  Check it out!

PlantPoweredGamers
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Meet the Plantpowered Gamers – Niko!

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Niko is one of the furry family members of the Plantpowered Gamers and he is a Maine Coon.  Maine Coon is basically code which means he is a cat that thinks he is a dog. He is a bit too big for a house cat but insists on being treated as some sort of luxury cat-dog hybrid. He is amusingly vocal and regularly “coos” to us when he is feeling playful. His majesty can often be found watching the birds and chipmunks play outside “his” window in the front of our house in the morning which has led to some amusing comments from our neighbors who were concerned that we had taken in a pet bobcat or mountain lion.

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His Majesty observes his subjects from atop the royal library (bookshelf).

Maine Coons are peculiar and get bored with typical cat and dog games pretty quickly. It is hard to keep Niko amused by any given toy or game for more than two or three minutes. His massive paws also make it kind of hard to play with him when he successfully catches the toy, as you probably aren’t getting that toy back until he is ready for you to get it. That excessively strong frame is really a sight to behold when he is being obstinate and doesn’t want to be “fooled with”. Those big paws can pretty well peel the carpet from the floor if one of us tries to pick him up when he doesn’t want to be bothered. It is amusing how casually he grips the floor, increasing his already substantial 20 lbs (9kg) to really “impossible to pick up without replacing the flooring and sustaining grievous back injury ”.

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Oh, you think you would like to pick all of this up?  My paws may beg to differ!

 

Niko is pretty affectionate with Suzy and loves to catch her when she is lounging so that he can get his belly and armpits rubbed. This probably sounds weird but he will occasionally allow a bit of physical contact if the petting is done just right. He tends to want to simply be near us or beside us, though, and really never does the “lap cat”-thing. I suppose he has decided that if we get an entire cushion on the couch he should have his own and there is no need for sharing. He is a treasure and truly a family member, never wanting to be left out of whatever is going on in another part of the house and usually finding us within a few minutes of us leaving the area that he was recently lounging.

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Just hangin’ out at the stairway to see who might pass by to entertain him.

Niko is a huge “fraidy-cat”, which is all the more exaggerated when his size is taken into account. He rarely comes out to see company and if service folks are working in the house one wouldn’t even know we had a cat if it were up to him. He can disappear like a true ninja kitty! Think “Beverly Hills Ninja” or perhaps Kung-Fu Panda for a nice visual of what a hiding 20 lbs cat looks like… Surprisingly cats just have a knack for being hard to detect. I know some of that is their pattern but they can hold so shockingly still sometimes.

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Niko does his “Yin-Yang” pose in the little cat bed that he originally fit in as a kitten and younger cat.  As one can see he tends to “spill” after he gets really good and comfy.

Niko seems to have concluded that our dog, Cricket, is “his” dog and regularly lays upon him, cuddles next to him and sniffs him when he has been out of doors.  Feeding time is the most peculiar as Niko “head-butts” Cricket which provokes Cricket to come let us know that the cat is hungry and should be fed.  This can persist for quite some time and Niko is not easily distracted from his goal once begun.  Poor Cricket!  Often his majesty gets his way purely because we cannot bear to see him pester Cricket so ruthlessly!

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Niko has claimed Cricket’s (our dog’s) bed.. as well as his bone, apparently.  

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“So yeah.. I stand upright.  You people stand, so why shouldn’t I?  I may just use this toilet if it suits me, but why would I when I have my own that is cleaned for me regularly.  Now, move along my loyal subjects, his majesty needs his privacy.”

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Such a photogenic fellow, enjoy!

Niko was raised and bred at Congocoon in Stevenson, Alabama.  Check out her page for some amazingly beautiful kittens as well as photos of most of the mommy and daddy cats!  Mitzy’s Page:Congocoon Maine Coon Cattery in Stevenson, Alabama

Hike to King’s Chair – Oak Mountain State Park

The Plant Powered Gamers have been hiking at Oak Mountain State Park in Alabama for about a year and a half now, but just last week we finally managed the trek up to “King’s Chair”.  I won’t bother trying to describe it beyond “breathtaking” as the view from there and the nice clear breeze was really welcoming and we took a nice long break before descending.  Cricket rather enjoyed himself too, but then he always does when it comes to hiking.  No one ever warned us that Australian Shepherds were related to mountain goats!  This pup can jump rocks like he was built for platforming.

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Suzy stands atop the lookout spot victoriously, having overcome countless mosquitos and spider webs over her long journey to the summit.  

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The path is so abundantly overrun with green!  It really invigorated us as we ascended the challenging trail.

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A quick clip Suzy shot from King’s Chair, showing off the amazing view.  Amusingly, Cricket can be heard “huffin’ and puffin'” in the background alongside the singing songbirds.  He was tuckered out!

Oak Mountain State Park is currently our “go to” hiking destination.  We are fortunate to live fairly close by and there are short hikes for those days that we are just trying to squeeze in a bit of outdoor time.  The hiking trails are color-coded and very well marked so that one really need not worry over becoming badly lost.  With a trailhead at either the north or south entrances the park can really feel like a different experience according to which path we take.  The trails branch and connect in multiple places too, which allows one to craft a path of suitable difficulty and also edit it according to what sites are desired.  There are quite a few interesting areas that we have managed to make our way to.  We will thoroughly enjoy snapping some photos as we pass them and share them but certainly our hope is to encourage others to get out and see these wonders for themselves.  If you are too far from our little paradise then check and see what is around you!  There might be a surprise closer than you think as there are so many beautiful parks scattered all over the U.S.  We are actually considering taking a train trip and making stops to see some of the different ones around the country one of these days.  If you know of a great place near you please leave us a comment!  It would be fantastic to have recommendations from locals.

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Simply Sweet Potatoes – Hybridized Style

Baked sweet potatoes – probably everyone has had them and yet I am always shocked at how underwhelmed most people are by them.  The aluminum-foil method should just disappear, though, as I think it is largely to blame for this.  Let me introduce to you the amazing hybrid steam-bake method!

First, you will need a baking dish with a lid that can handle 400 degrees Farenheit in the oven (that is 200 degrees Celcius).  Warm up the oven and wash those ‘taters thoroughly.  You don’t want to be eating dirt and whatever else might have been in the ground when they were harvested.  Being a root veggie, sweet potatoes can be pretty dirty fellas’.  Put just enough water in the bottom of the baking dish to cover it to about 1/4″.  For my little dish that is about 1/2 cup but you can work that out after a few attempts for the dish available.  After the oven is warmed up simply cover the potatoes and bake for 60 minutes.  After that time has passed flip off the oven but leave the potatoes and covered dish in the oven.  I usually let them sit for another 30-60 minutes at least, but I have forgotten a time or two and left them in for several hours.  No harm, they didn’t mind.  You’ll find the water at the bottom has become a pretty amazing “syrup” that I often use in oatmeal or if I am having sweet potatoes over rice then it mixes nicely in the rice.  Super simple – I love these kinds of methods and/or recipes that are hard to “mess up”.

So give it a try and get rid of the aluminum foil.  There is some research suggesting that it may be bad for your nervous system anyway, so it may be advisable to not use it in direct contact with anything you’re cooking until more data is available and a more final opinion is made.

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These guys are ready to be covered and warmed up!

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Armored up to protect from scorching.  Specialized glass containment unit engaged!

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So it may be a little hard to see with the sunshine blasting into my kitchen window, but this couple is just bursting with moisture, sweetness and flavor!  The bit of water keeps them from drying out and as a bonus, sweet potato syrup is left to experiment with or just pour over the potato after you split it.  

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