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Category: Life Is Good

Ronin of Catan

R.I.P. Klaus Teuber

We’re not big on The Robber in Settlers of Catan for a few reasons, so we tried a few different alternative rules and think we’ve settled on some we like.

The Ronin still blocks the tile they’re on from producing normally.

So you rolled a seven…

  • Don’t steal.
  • As usual, discard if applicable.
  • Move the Ronin a number of tiles equal to the lower of the dice rolled without doubling back or ending on their starting tile.
  • Take cards from the supply equal in number to the lower of the dice rolled limited in kind and proportion to the kind normally produced by the tiles traversed.

For example, if you roll a five and a two, you must move the Ronin two tiles. If the Ronin is on a forest tile, and you move it to another forest tile with one hill tile between them, you can take either two wood or a wood and a brick from the supply, but not two brick because only one hill was traversed by the Ronin.

So you played a knight…

  • Don’t steal.
  • Move the Ronin exactly one tile.
  • Take from the supply one card of the kind normally produced by the either the starting or ending tile of the Ronin’s path.

Other adjustments

We’ve only been testing this with two players, but we’re enjoying it when we play to thirteen instead of ten.

Costa Rica Showed Us Some Birds

Thanks, Agniel. You’re an amazing guide!

The four images above link to their full-sized versions.


Remembering the time at the 2007 Chicago South Side St. Patrick’s Day parade when I saw this…

…and thought, let’s go take family-portrait style pictures with those guys.

They were as liquid in their bearing up close as they were from afar and inside.

On Safari Above the Tree Line

Most people who know me think of me as someone who doesn’t like animals. I do, but from a distance. Don’t touch me, animals.

I’ve always liked rodents and had pet hamsters I wouldn’t touch when I was a kid. I had books about animals and the rodent section was my favorite. The pika was my favorite from those books. I had never seen one and, when I realized that nature just didn’t happen in my suburb, I got a bored and started thinking about planets instead.

I was reminded of the pika when, two years ago, Sarah and I saw David Attenborough’s Life of Mammals. We were so enamored with these little guys that we called our soccer team the Fighting Pikas which I’m sure made more than a few of them laugh (thanks for reminding me, Nathan). Seeing pikas in the wild went to the top of our traveling bucket list. This weekend, at a wedding for my cousin Morgan in Colorado, we thought we had our chance.

On our way out of town after the wedding, we took a side trip up to Mt. Evans to get above the tree line but the road was closed. Lucky for us, someone on his way to kill goats offered to use his special access to the closed area to drive us in as long as we were okay walking back to our car. He dropped us 5 miles in and, with our long underwear in our pockets, we shivered our way back to our car.

We saw two pikas, did a happy dance, and got a ride back to our car from a ranger after only a mile of the hike back. What luck!

Here’s video of the second pika we saw:

And then there were these views. Oh, boy.

Sarah’s Flamenco Show in May 2012

I have been taking flamenco dance lessons for the past 3 years, building slowly from once a week dabbling at the Old Town School of Folk Music to 4 classes a week with Chiara Mangiameli at her studio in Logan Square. It’s a formidable dance style to study, especially for someone like me who didn’t have any dance training going into it. But I love that it is graceful, forceful, emotional and athletic all at once, and works for me as both exercise and artistic expression. As a bonus, sometimes I get to perform! The next show I’ll be dancing in is called “A Traves del Espejo” and it will be at the Adventure Stage Chicago (formerly known as the Vittum Theater) Friday May 18th and 19th at 8pm and Sunday May 20th at 4pm. I’ll be dancing in two of the pieces, and in addition to the ensemble work I’m sure there will be at least two solos by professional dancers, and the music is always live, authentic flamenco music. Below is the link to more info and a video trailer for the show:!news

Our Favorite Chicago Restaurants

We’re both vegetarian, so this list is biased in favor of places with great veggie options:

Ras Dashen

This may be our favorite restaurant in the world, and it’s just down the street from us in Edgewater. Chef Zenash Beyenne is a magician with spices, and her richly flavored stews transcend the genre. There are many Ethiopian restaurants on this strip of Broadway, but after you go to Ras Dashen, it’s the only one you’ll need. Try the q’tegna appetizer and the dupa wat (spicy pumpkin stew).


Located not far from us in Uptown, this is the best place for brunch in Chicago so expect to wait if you go during peak brunch times. But waiting isn’t so bad in Tweet’s adjacent bar, Big Chicks, with free coffee and a game of Boggle. And when you finally sit down, the enormous, beautifully plated portions of food are worth it. The menu has a lot of options for veg and vegan, and they even have a separate gluten-free menu if you need it. Our favorites are the veggie bisquits and gravy and the chilaquiles. Lots of fresh fruit, coffee cake, and every flavor of Tabasco sauce imaginable are all on hand to enhance your brunch experience.

El Norte

When we are feeling broke but really want to eat out, we go to El Norte, our neighborhood taqueria. The quality is good, it’s open late, and the price is right. My “the usual” is 1 order of beans, 1 order of corn tortillas, 1 order of sliced avocado, and some limes. I make my own tacos and eat dinner for about $3. When we visit our friends who moved from our neighborhood to Skokie, they often ask us to bring them veggie burritos from El Norte.

Ben’s Noodles and Rice

This is our neighborhood Thai place. It does all the standard Thai dishes well (we get the Pad See Eew and the Panang Curry), but what sets it apart is how incredibly friendly and warm the owners are. Even when we haven’t been in for a year, they remember us and ask us how we’ve been. If it’s in season, try their mango sticky rice for dessert.

Chicago Diner

This all veg restaurant has been around for almost 30 years, and they have my favorite sandwich – the radical reuben – and my favorite milk shake (the vegan peanut butter cookie dough, made with temptation soy ice cream.)

Spacca Napoli

Of all the Napoli-style thin crust pizza places that opened in the last several years, this is our favorite. And when I’m feeling cheesed out, I order a pizza with crumbled black truffles and a fried egg. It’s not on the menu, but if they have eggs in the kitchen and you ask nicely they’ll make it for you. The Bianco Nero is another great one, with porcini mushrooms and white truffle oil. Aaron likes the Bufalina. Also, it’s a great place to eat in the summer because they have a nice outdoor patio.


This is another thin-crust style pizza place we like (that also has good outdoor seating in the summer). This one’s specialty is that they are a certified organic restaurant (which we love to support). Plus, I love one of their salads (called the sun salad, I think) that has seaweed in it.

Blind Faith Cafe

This place is north of Chicago in Evanston, but is worth the trek for good veg entrees and more importantly, the best cake ever: their vegan chocolate peanut butter cake. We order a whole cake from them whenever one of us has a birthday.

Mana Food Bar

We only went here once, but it was awesome. Small plates of really interesting veggie food.

Conoce Mi Panamá

Who would have guessed that a storefront Panamanian place would have soy chicken or empanadas with fake ground beef?

El Faro

Another surprise – a taqueria at 31st and Pulaski that has an entire page of the menu devoted to tacos, tortas and platos of traditional Mexican dishes done with fake meat. The best is the fake Al pastor and carne asada.

Addendum on 2/18/12:

Quesadilla – La Reyna del Sur

Aaron and I just had dinner at another place that belongs on this list, now that it is trending toward a vegetarian-latin theme. Quesadilla – La Reyna del Sur on Western a couple blocks south of Fullerton. I don’t think they have a website, but you can get their info off of Happy Cow. Here’s a review of it on second city vegan. The quesadilla with vegan cheese and carne asada soya meat was the best. I am already wanting another one and I’m not even hungry.


New Year’s on the Beach

A last minute dinner party turned out to be the perfect way to begin the new year. Just before midnight we headed out to Hollywood beach to celebrate with distant fireworks displays, mini international flags, and eating as many lucky grapes as possible in the first minute of 2012. 

Crotch Surgery on My Heart

I assume I was born with Wolff-Parkison White syndrome.  Mostly, that meant I’d have episodes about once a year that set my heart rate suddenly up to way above any heart rate I could get wrestling, lifting weights or anything else a high school kid does to get his heart rate up (jumping out of moving cars, skateboarding down hills into traffic…). If I didn’t get my heart rate down by holding my neck in a special way, I had heard that I could pass out. In high school, I found out that about 1% of people who have my version of WPW die suddenly from it. I didn’t sweat it much but each episode freaked me out a little.

This year, I talked to another cardiologist who told me that I had to do something about it. “If you were a pilot, I’d ground you. If you were in the NFL, I’d bench you.” I asked him a bunch of questions which he didn’t like but entertained. At one point, he told me I was getting too hung up on the terminology, but he interrupted my next question to correct my terminology. “It’s not heart surgery. It’s a procedure.”

Long story short, I went with Dr. Wes Fisher for the crotch surgery on my heart option to permanently fix my WPW. Here’s a BORING video of me talking about it five minutes after it happened.

Family Stories

Big Kessler Hanukkah party was fun again this year.  Sammy held court for about 20 minutes with the family story.  Great stuff!  I recorded most of it on an iPhone and cleaned up the audio with the free program Audacity.

Sammy tells the family story

This reminded me about some interviews Jesse and Howard (is that right?) did with Selma and David Gans.  I tried out some of my new software on trying to clean up those recordings some. Here are links to those interviews (processed with Adobe Audition CS5.5, processed with Audacity, unprocessed — I recommend the Audition processed versions but I haven’t listened to them each all the way through).

Same interviews – processed with Audition

Selma part 1 – Audition
Selma part 2 – Audition
David part 1 – Audition
David part 2 – Audition

Same interviews – processed with Audacity

Selma part 1 – Audacity
Selma part 2 – Audacity
David part 1 – Audacity
David part 2 – Audacity

Same interviews – unprocessed

Selma part 1 – Unprocessed
Selma part 2 – Unprocessed
David part 1 – Unprocessed
David part 2 – Unprocessed

The astute among you may have noticed these files are hosted on Don’t worry, it’s not a pot of viruses. It’s a server in my parents’ basement.

Our New Names

Now that we’re married, we’re going to start looking into officially changing our names to Surrain.

Aaron Joseph Lipke Surrain
Sarah Huckabay Surrain

The wedding was the best day of our lives, but our honeymoon had a less-than-auspicious start.  Half way home from Milwaukee, acute abdominal pain prompted a change of plans.  Sarah took an ambulance to Lake Forest Hospital, where we spent the next 4 hours.  Lemon laws don’t apply to wives, so I was pretty nervous that I’d have no redress if my marriage only lasted a day.  With those fears allayed, we turned to fretting about our honeymoon.  An ultrasound saved the day and set us on our way home with just a little abating residual pain and 6 hours to pack and catch a plane.  We rushed, then waited, missed flights, rushed some more, waited some more, jogged a mile along the future path of Miami Airport’s monorail, missed another flight, holed up in Miami (in style, thanks to Dan and Gretchen!), waited for the plane, waited for the rain and finally took off a day late but no worse for the wear.

In the midst of congratulating ourselves for keeping such high spirits throughout our miniature travails, we gazed out the window of our plane to catch the rather dramatic moment of our plane leaving the gray below as it ascended into the clear be-puffy-clouded sky above the rain.  And that’s what our name means.  After months of mostly entertaining ourselves with would-be new surnames, Surrain came to me from the thought of being above (the prefix sur-) the rain.  We mulled it over during our honeymoon and, having found it satisfying aesthetically and handy as a mantra, name-like and unblemished by any corporate trademark claims, we’re going for it.

The Plunge

We posted pictures on Flickr and Shutterfly. The flickr pics are smaller and for easier web viewing. We uploaded larger versions to shutterfly in case you want to order prints. If you’re really interested in ordering prints and want to see more pictures that feature you or specific moments, let us know and we’ll happily post more to shutterfly. Here are links to both:

Flickr from our old wedding site
Flickr from Flickr

Our Old Wedding Site