A Peaceful Respite

by Beth Royston

Video games are not only a huge hobby of mine, they’re also a form of stress relief. They can serve as both an art form and a way to decompress. I play a lot of games normally, but over the past year that we’ve been in the pandemic, I find myself turning to more calming management-style games. They’re distracting and perfect when I need to relax. I thought I’d recommend some of my indie favorites in case you’re also looking for your next fix. I tried to include several, but realistically, I could go on forever. These are either games I’ve played myself and have given a happy stamp of approval, or that have received raving reviews from friends. I could also recommend several other games that wouldn’t quite fit the management tag, but that’s a list for another day. 

Stardew Valley

Personally, I feel like Stardew Valley is super well-known, but I still haven’t played it! I’m hoping to remedy that soon. However, almost all of my friends have played, and no one has anything negative to say about it. In Stardew Valley, you take over a farm and make it the best it can be, while getting to know the townsfolk and exploring a gorgeous world. Stardew Valley has an “Overwhelmingly Positive” rating on Steam with 290,206 reviews. It’s available on multiple consoles, but if you play on PC, you can find a lot of mods that people have lovingly made to enhance your experience.

Slime Rancher

Slime Rancher features you taking the role of Beatrix LeBeau, a rancher living on a foreign planet who spends her days wrangling various types of slimes and exploring the Far, Far Range. Slime Rancher is super charming, with many different environments to explore and cute characters to meet. You can combine slime types and grow their favorite foods, while keeping an eye on the changing market prices. In my opinion, Slime Rancher does an excellent job of balancing exploration with management that actually feels necessary and real! You’re required to pay attention to your ranch and venture out in order to advance the game. It also has a timed mode and a relaxed mode so you can customize your experience. Slime Rancher has an “Overwhelmingly Positive” rating on Steam with over 54,461 reviews and took me about 20 hours to play through.

Potion Craft

Potion Craft isn’t released yet, but you can play the demo. It looks like a unique, promising concept. You play as an alchemist in a small town, taking the townspeople’s various requests for potions while trying to figure out how to make most of them through wild experimentation. What charmed me the most was the art style of the game — it looks like a medieval text. I found the demo extremely fun to play and spent time exploring what happened when I added various ingredients together. I’m really looking forward to spending hours in this game, managing my little alchemy shop when Potion Craft releases.

Spiritfarer

I’ve saved the best for last. Spiritfarer was my personal game of the year in 2020. You play as Stella, the newest Spiritfarer replacing Charon, and sail around a beautiful world in your massive vessel with your cat Daffodil. Your goal is to find lost spirits in the world and help them pass on, while discovering more about yourself. You complete charming tasks, like cooking, gardening, building workshops and spirit houses, and chasing adorable nebula rollie-pollies that sink onto your boat like falling stars. (Extremely important note — you can hug Daffodil at any time!) Spiritfarer is ultimately a game about loss, death, and grief, and it definitely made me sob every time I helped a spirit pass on. With the disclaimer that it’s a sad game, it definitely struck a chord with me as a sentimental, beautiful work of art about how those you love will never be far. The soundtrack is incredible, the quests are charming, and I literally cannot say enough about it. The developers are releasing new spirits this year, which has motivated me to start a new playthrough and experience it all over again. Spiritfarer has an “Overwhelmingly Positive” rating on Steam with 7,340 reviews, and I have almost 40 hours in the game — but disclaimer, I did spend extra time getting all of the achievements. 

I hope that this list gave you some inspiration for calming management games to try! 

Quintessential Conventions

by Beth Royston

Ah, conventions – gatherings for people who share a common love of comics, anime, or other uniting things. Where else can you walk giant circles around one building all day, squeezing past people in impossibly intricate armor cosplays, trying to get in line to buy an incredibly expensive burger? I love conventions, and have truly missed their presence in my life this past year. I can’t wait for them to be back again! I’d like to provide a little tidbit on what to expect if you’ve always been fascinated by these gatherings of greatness or have ever considered attending. This is by no means a comprehensive list of every piece of advice or every convention in the area, but hopefully it’ll get you started.

Where do I start?

There are usually a “main three” in Portland my partner and I like to frequent — Rose City Comic Con (RCCC), Wizard Con Portland (WC) and Kumoricon. RCCC and WC are more comic-oriented, while Kumoricon is more anime-oriented. My partner and I aren’t super into comics, and I’m not into anime, but we feel like there’s an inclusion of many sources of media at these conventions. All celebrate pop culture, and offer merchandise for video games, tv shows, books … you name it. There are some smaller cons in Portland we haven’t checked out yet, and we’re interested in checking out some Oregon conventions outside the Portland area. We’ve also attended Seattle’s PAX West in the past, which I highly recommend if you love everything video games like we do. My partner and I are interested in checking out some other Washington conventions in the future as well.  RCCC, WC, and Kumoricon are all in the fall or winter, and PAX is in the summer. Convention tickets usually range between $40-70 for a full weekend pass, but of course, this varies. You can also purchase a one-day pass if you want to test the waters.

Do you have to cosplay?

No, absolutely not. There are plenty of folks in their regular clothes. However, cosplaying is really, really fun. You can start small and purchase your entire costume online, or pick a character that wears everyday clothes that are easy to find. Or, you can get a little more advanced and try out sewing and/or crafting parts of your costume. It’s rewarding and exciting! It’s a highlight of convention season every year to recognize folks in costume from media my partner and I both love, and also, to be recognized! Having a starry-eyed con-goer ask to take your picture is a pretty sweet feeling. There’s usually a lot of workshops and panels during a con about cosplaying and how to make props if you’re interested in learning. If you are cosplaying, I recommend checking out social media or convention forums to see if there are any meetup groups for the media you’re cosplaying from! Usually there will be a costume contest at a convention, and that’s a great way to see the amazing talent on display.

What is there to do?

A lot! My personal favorite part is browsing the artists’ alley. There are so many cool posters, keychains, stickers, and a ton of other kinds of merch I won’t even think of before I see it! There’s usually a lot of stock for things that are current and popular, but there’s a particular excitement that ignites inside me when I see merchandise for something older, or less well-known. I’ve scored some truly awesome finds, and it feels great to support local creators. You can also attend panels, which are usually on a variety of topics, and simply people-watch. I love walking around and seeing everyone’s cosplays, as well as being asked for pictures. Always ask someone before taking a picture, and don’t touch anyone’s cosplay or body without their consent. There’s plenty to do the entire weekend, but you can always try just going for one day if you’re unsure about how you’ll like it. 

I hope you’ll give convention-going a try if it sounds interesting! This year, it’s a goal of mine to try selling my handmade soap in an artist’s alley.  For now, I simply dream of going back. Hope to see you there!

A Clearer Future

by Beth Royston

Well, I received my news. For those of you who read my previous post Learning to be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable, I wrote that I felt like I was spiraling, unanchored, waiting for decisions and news that would help me shape what my life was going to look like next year. A few weeks ago, both my partner and I found out that we didn’t get into our chosen graduate program. Honestly, I was devastated. I had wanted to get into that program since I started college, and it felt crushing to receive that news. However, I’ve spent the few weeks afterwards in a state of odd peace, which I didn’t imagine I would obtain. 

I’ve done a lot of thinking and realized that while I would have loved to go, this decision may be for the best. My partner and I have both had a rough time with online school, and as we near graduation, we’re both feeling pretty burnt out. A break sounds nice right about now. We’ve also spent the past four years on part-time wages, and being able to find full-time jobs and actually have some savings will be great. We also have become really interested in buying a car, and that would probably be really difficult on our current funds. It’s actually achievable next year with the chance to work full-time, and getting some more experience in our chosen fields is never a bad thing. 

I was introspective and realized that I was so averse to taking another gap year because I’d already taken one —and it was a bad experience. I first decided to take a gap year in between high school and college, and moved from California immediately  after graduation. I had no friends in Portland, and lived alone. I was really lonely without my pets for the first time. I loved my job and saved up a lot of money working there, but I didn’t really do much else other than work. I was incredibly depressed, and understandably didn’t want to repeat that. But I’m in a much different position now than I was then. My life is fulfilling, and I have a lot of hobbies and people around me that bring me joy. There’s so many things that I’m looking forward to doing now that I’ve lived in Portland for five years and have regular favorite spots. Of course it’s normal for me to be upset about not getting in, but I’ve been really pleased to come to peace with it, and realize the many silver linings that are appearing. I’m feeling optimistic about maybe getting my novel publishing-ready this year, and I really want to try taking my online business to a convention! A year of resetting sounds pretty great right about now, with how awful this year has been. We’ll both apply again next year, but it feels like a lot of pressure is off. I’m mostly grateful to just have an answer, so I can begin formulating a picture of what next year will look like. 

A New Fit Experience

by Beth Royston

Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to try something I’d always been curious about — working with a personal trainer. I was fortunate enough to try purchasing sessions with a personal trainer from campus Rec, with the hopes that I could get assistance developing an at-home routine that would help me get a little more fit. Due to the pandemic, I wasn’t playing sports anymore and I’ve never been a fan of running. I was hoping that being able to exercise in my garage with someone to motivate me would be a novel experience that would be just what I needed.

Looking back on my sessions, I am definitely glad that I tried it. It’s a lot easier for me to stay motivated if I have someone to check in with, and I was grateful that I could ask questions and figure out what reasonable goals were with a professional. Before I committed to purchasing sessions, I was able to meet with my trainer to discuss my goals, and feel out if it was a good fit. I think it helped me to have clear goals, like something that I could easily fit into my busy day, but my trainer was able to help me clarify those goals even more and get specific. Finding relatively short but intense workouts that I could do at home helped me minimize the personal excuses that I’ve always come up with — I don’t have enough time, or I don’t want to go to the gym, et cetera. I also did realize that I think I honestly prefer sports as my form of exercise. I’m just not a big gym person, and while working out at home is definitely better, sometimes it still feels a bit too similar. I’m definitely going to keep up the workout routine that I developed up until the pandemic is over, but I’m looking forward to being able to join a sport again and have that be my go-to. I would say overall that I recommend the experience if you can try it and do want to check it out! 

A Wonderful Winter

by Beth Royston

I wrote a post previously on my favorite autumn activities (see: An Aspirational Autumn). I thought I’d continue the series by logging some of my favorite winter activities! It’s definitely been more of a secluded winter with the pandemic, but I’ve been pleased to find out that I can still carry out some of my plans. So without further ado, here are some of my best recommendations to carry you through these chilly months.

Check out the Portland Winter Light Festival!

Held every year in early February, the Winter Light Festival is a glorious assembly of light displays and art. It’s usually spread out through different locations in the city. This year, the Festival took the form of separate installations around the city. I unfortunately didn’t make it out to see the art this year, but I’ve gone in the past, and I absolutely recommend it! Check out their website linked here.

See Zoo Lights!

If you love going to the zoo, check it out in a new fashion with Zoo Lights! Held around the holiday season, this event at the Oregon Zoo takes place in the evening. While most of the animals are asleep, you can see brilliant and cute light displays, and the infamous tunnel of lights which is a worthy photo-op. They have many food carts still open, so you can still get a warm beverage and a snack. I definitely recommend checking it out at least once.

Venture out into the snow!

I was beyond thrilled to have snow this year on Valentine’s Day weekend. If you also enjoy the snow, I definitely recommend making the most of it! You can have a snowball fight, build a snowman, or simply take a lovely winter walk. My fiancee and I walked to our local park, found a hill, and tossed ourselves down it on our stomachs like penguins since we didn’t have sleds. It was so much fun, but be careful if you’re out in the snow not to slip! If you don’t have any good footwear, you can purchase snap-on treads for your shoes that will vastly increase your traction in the ice. 

Try taking a trip to the coast/sea lion caves

You may not find this enjoyable if you dislike winter weather, but if you don’t mind it, take a trip to the Oregon coast. During the off season, the beaches are pretty vacant, and hotel rates tend to be lower. My partner and I went in December, and we absolutely loved how quiet it was. The scenery at the beach was still gorgeous. Neither of us are huge sunning-yourself beach people anyway, so we didn’t mind at all. Also, consider heading down south to Florence to visit the sea lion caves, which are the largest sea caves in North America! Unfortunately, they closed this year due to the pandemic, but it’s a bucket list item of mine to go. The best time to go is during the winter, when the sea lions huddle inside the cave to stay warm.

However you spend your winter, I hope it’s safe, warm, and fun! 

Starting Line Advice

by Beth Royston

Somehow, almost four years of college have passed. I’m about to graduate in the spring. I was recently thinking back on my entire college experience and how the pandemic changed so many expectations I held about how it would go. I thought about what had gone the way I’d expected, and what hadn’t at all. For anyone that might be about to embark on their own college journey, I’ve compiled my tips on staying afloat into a list, with the hopes that it might help soothe your worries about what those next four (or more!) years will look like.

Figure out your own rules

College is vastly different from high school in a lot of amazing ways. You’re much more on your own, which is really freeing — but can also be really intimidating. To succeed, it really helped me to nail down exactly how I liked to study, how early in the morning I could bear to go to class, and when and where I liked doing my homework. Those provided parameters for scheduling classes and figuring out when I was going to get things done. Abiding by my own rules made it a lot easier to feel productive. Personally, I became a better student because I could actually take classes I was interested in, and also because I was allowed to make more decisions about how I wanted to learn.

Stay flexible.

I’m happy to say that I generally don’t have any regrets in life, except doing some pretty cringey things in middle school. But seriously, staying flexible has helped me ride the highs and lows of college life. I’m type A to the point that I have the next ten years of my life generally figured out. However, life has a funny way of not going the way you plan it to, and this includes college. Hello, pandemic! While it’s okay to mourn changed plans and grieve missed opportunities, the best thing you can do is make the best of what you have. Keep to your goals, but be open to how you get to the end changing, as long as you get there. 

Try new things.

I’m a naturally extroverted person, but it was still nerve-wracking to do some of the things I did that were outside of my comfort zone. Even if I didn’t end up liking that club or left the event early, I still could say I tried it! I made some great connections and hilarious memories by just being open if something seemed even remotely interesting to me.

Talk to your advisor early and often.

I talk to my advisor at least once a term. It helped me feel comforted that I was on track to graduate. I would seriously recommend checking in with your advisor at least once a term, and early — before it’s too late and you can’t get in to ask them your registration questions. They are also usually able to connect you to resources on campus that you may need, and give some career advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advocate for yourself. This also extends to asking for help when you need it. There are so many resources on campus to help you succeed, take advantage of them! 

My college experience was definitely not what I thought it would be. To be transparent, there were a lot of things that I wished I could try that I never got to, and being sick nearly all junior year made me feel like I was missing out on a lot. And then, of course, the pandemic caused my entire senior year to be online, and I felt like I was missing out on even more. I was looking forward to so much, and have been grieving that loss. However, I couldn’t control any of that. I remember the happy memories I made in college — the friends I met, the food I ate, the countless hours spent at the farmer’s market with my partner. I do count myself lucky because I want to attend Portland State for graduate school, and that will be three more years at the campus I love so much. Above all, I’m a very different student now than I was in high school, and I feel like I succeeded by advocating for myself and staying flexible throughout these years. I hope that these tips help if you’re just about to start Portland State, or elsewhere — and welcome to college.

Learning to be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

by Beth Royston

2020 was taxing for everyone, but I felt like I had a double helping of misfortune. Not only was there the pandemic to contend with, but I had a disastrous trip abroad last year, and have been dealing with the symptoms of PTSD ever since. I already have a lot to worry about — myself staying safe, my friends and family staying safe, trying to keep my motivation up for school during this time. However, recently I’ve had to confront an uncomfortable realization that I simply don’t know how the next few years of my life will look.

I’ve always been a planner, and had certainly made plans for those years. I applied for grad school earlier this year, and have had that intention for a while. However, with the pandemic, I wasn’t able to get some of the extra experience that I wanted in preparation for my graduate program. I applied feeling less secure than I wanted. I’m currently trying to sort out how I feel about the prospect of going to grad school if the program will be online. And what happens if I don’t even get in? I’d find a job and I’m sure I’d adjust, but it’s more about the thought of what I desperately want to happen not happening — the pandemic not ending, and not getting into my dream program. I also got engaged to my partner of five years a month ago, and as sweet as that’s been, the both of us have been worried and uncertain, unable to really begin planning anything solid for our wedding. As it may be evident, I’ve spent a lot of time spiraling. 

Unfortunately, all I can do is wait. I must wait and see if I get into my program, I must wait and see what happens with the pandemic that affects all of us. I even must wait and see how other factors in my life come into play to decide when to get married. It’s a lot of uncomfortable uncertainty, my very weakness. My armor is planning and doing the best I can to make my dreams and plans come true. The best I can do is plan for different scenarios and try to stay flexible.

While 2020 was the hardest year of my life, I’ve also undergone a lot of personal growth. I don’t think I will ever entirely be the type of person that can just sit back and be extremely flexible with change, but I’ve come a long way in realizing that sometimes no matter how much you plan things, they will still go wrong. I had that exact experience with my trip abroad. Everything was planned out to the smallest detail, but fortune was not in my favor regarding a dish I chose to eat at a restaurant that made me very ill and culminated in my hospitalization. I’d planned for some general stomach upset when adjusting to a new cuisine, but nothing to that level. You can either fight that or take a deep breath and adjust. I’ve definitely been grieving for the experiences I feel like I’ve missed out on, and trying to put that energy into what I’m looking forward to later in my life. However, sometimes I fail to be optimistic, and simply feel really sad and worried about how adrift I feel. None of my plans are anchoring me. 

It’s an effort every day to try to coach myself on not adding on additional worries about things that I can’t control. It’s something I struggle with a lot because of my personality, but I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. I’m glad that I’ve been able to adjust in a positive way because of everything that’s happened, and come out a stronger, better, more resilient person, even if I don’t necessarily feel that way all the time. 

Have You Ever Tried Embroidery?

by Beth Royston

While I’ve had more time to bake during quarantine — something I’ve always loved to do — I finally tried something new with soapmaking — something I wanted to try for a long time. However, a new goal of mine was to pick a new hobby to try that had only appeared on my radar recently. For me, this was embroidery.

I’ve seen embroidery hoops before, but never really connected the dots that this was something that I could try if I wanted to figure out how to get started. I spend a lot of time on Etsy, as that’s where I run my business, and after one craft kit was recommended to me I started looking at a lot of them. There were almost an overwhelming amount of options with really unique, cool patterns that I thought would look absolutely spectacular on my wall. Plus, I’d be supporting other small creators. I asked for a few embroidery kits for Christmas, and have to say, I’m hooked. When I was younger, I was very interested in sewing, and this was definitely reminiscent of the magic that was spending long hours crouched over painstakingly small stitches, eventually being able to triumphantly present your creation (and aching back). What can I say — if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. But I enjoy hobbies that make me feel like an old woman living on a homestead, and thus that fire inside me was reignited with embroidery. 

The kits I tried came with everything I needed — fabric with the pattern in water-soluble ink, a hoop, a needle, thread, and instructions. Even though they were rated for beginners, I sought some outside help on YouTube for some of the stitches that the brief directions didn’t really explain. It was so satisfying to feel myself get the hang of french knots and a stem stitch, working on something vividly colored and beautiful that I was able to hang on my wall. I’ve since ordered myself a few new kits, and allowed my mind to wander to what types of projects I could accomplish. Pillowcases, tea towels, even little flowers on the pockets of my favorite jeans. Thankfully, embroidery supplies are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, and if you happen to already have that stuff laying around, the PDF embroidery pattern availability on Etsy is as large as the premade kit availability. If anything, PDFs are easier to find. The most difficult part of these projects is choosing colors, especially ones that I’m doing without a pattern, like embroidering some leaves on my favorite hat. 

I’m thrilled to have picked up this new hobby, especially one that grants gorgeous art for around my house. I love to work on my projects while some Netflix is going in the background and a candle is lit. I’d definitely recommend it if you are looking for something new and relaxing to try!

Here are some photos of my beginning hoops. My next project will be two pillowcases!

Have You Heard of Queeries?

by Beth Royston

One of my favorite experiences during my time at Portland State has been volunteering with Queeries. Hopefully you’ve heard of this program run out of the Queer Resource Center on campus, but if not, let me make an introduction. 

Queeries is a program that uses volunteer PSU students to speak on panels about their queer experience to other PSU underclassmen, usually in freshman or sophomore inquiry classes. The panel is an opportunity for students to ask questions (anonymously if wished) to a variety of queer students about whatever they want. Common questions I’ve had include when I knew that I was queer, have I ever tried new labels, what would I say if someone came out to me, et cetera. The program facilitators are always wonderful about keeping boundaries, and making it clear that our experiences are our own; as any panel is not representative of the entire queer community.  It’s been a really wonderful opportunity to practice answering a question about myself succinctly. 

To be honest, there have been some tough questions on panels, mainly ones that resemble microaggressions I’ve been dealing with for years and years. However, it’s been meaningful to me to answer these questions and humanise myself, and other queer people. I really believe that the chance for people who haven’t been around many others that are queer and be able to ask questions is helpful, and does something positive in the short and long term. It’s powerful to educate others by simply being yourself. I’ve learned a lot from other panelists, too, listening to them answer questions about something I haven’t experienced, or even something that we’ve both experienced, but in a different way. Last year, I had the opportunity to speak on a Queeries panel for high schoolers in their local GSA (gay-straight alliance) at Portland State, and it made a huge impact on me. I discovered that I really liked working with queer youth, and possibly want to turn that into my specialty when I go into private-practice counseling. I also really like educating and advocating, and I might see myself wanting to teach in the future, or at least continue doing this type of work. Whatever ends up happening, I will absolutely look back on my time at Queeries with fondness.

If you are queer and looking for a wonderful way to volunteer on campus that helps create positive social change, I would absolutely recommend checking out the Queeries program. You need no experience, and the benefit of being more comfortable with public speaking is great for anyone. You can also contact the QRC for more information if you’re interested in having Queeries do a panel in your classroom — or if you just have a question for a queer person.

Email queeries@pdx.edu for more information and any questions.

A Juggling Act

by Beth Royston

It’s important to have a good work-life balance. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, many people’s lives are crossing over into one another, the lines and boundaries blurring together. For myself and other students, it’s a constant struggle to stay on top of everything and maintain those boundaries. I work remotely right now, so many parts of my day take place in the same room. I work at my desk, log onto my classes at my desk and relax at my desk. It can also be a struggle to define your day with online classes. Since you can do the work at any time of day, everything bleeds into each other.

However, I’ve had some success keeping my day defined with Google Calendar. I used to rely on a physical planner because I liked having something to hold and write in, but I have permanently switched over to an online one! You can’t beat how portable an online calendar is, as well as mess-free to edit. My favorite feature is definitely the ability to have your task list right next to you when using Google Calendar on the computer. I also appreciate that you can create different calendars for different aspects of your life (and color-code them). For instance, I have a work calendar, a homework calendar and a personal calendar. I can toggle my homework calendar on and off to see due dates for assignments and remove it if it’s causing too much clutter. It’s also helped me to schedule my day, if I know I have a bunch of things to get done but no particular time to do it. This has helped me feel like there’s some semblance of normal during this time, and I’d absolutely recommend it for anyone wanting to get organized. You can also use Google Calendar on your phone if you need to check things on the go. 

It’s also helped me to make some clearer boundaries for my work-life balance. Obviously, it will never be back to normal until I’m commuting again, but I’ve tried to create boundaries where I can. If I’m done with work and classes for the day, I try not to allow myself to drift into homework mode when I have some time to myself. Focusing on homework during a specific time helps me stay productive. Obviously, something different works for everyone, and doing homework here and there throughout the day might work better for you. However you’re getting through trying to live a normal life when things are decidedly not-normal, I wish you the best.