Don’t bring gender into (board) gaming – or, why I’m sick of seeing dudes ask what games their wives might like.

On Boardgame Geek (in various forums), or even occasionally on Reddit or on Twitter, I’ll see requests from (usually) male boardgamers asking what games they should get to play with/buy for their wives/daughters/girlfriends. I want to look a little at this to see why it’s problematic to frame your questioning this way, and how it can only further drive the divide between the perceived binary of genders in gaming.

I want to state up front: I am not opposed to people seeking out recommendations for games to play with their significant others or children. I am all for bringing people to the hobby, regardless of if they stay a casual player or become very much a more frequent gamer. If the person you’re trying to encourage is willing to try out stuff, then great! If not, then you can’t magically make them enjoy games, no matter how great you think those games are (this is hard to swallow! I know!) and just asking for recommendations based solely on gender will certainly not help with that. I’ve had great success by playing accessible, casual games with people, leading to a great and enthusiastic response – rather than saying something akin to, “Oh hey! You’re a lady therefore you most likely sew, and therefore will enjoy this game Patchwork”, which is never a safe assumption (although that person may end up enjoying that fantastic 2p mostly abstract game with challenging decisions because it’s awesome).

So, let’s move on. The most important point here is gender. Within gender as the focal point here, the false assumption that gender identity is binary and the essentialism that goes along with that assumption. Essentialism is the concept that something (an object, an animal, a group of people, etc) is marked by an unchanging, assumed state of being, that something has an “ultimate reality” – for instance, that cultural practices are static and unchanging, or that the earth is definitely flat and that can never be different.

This gender essentialism – 2 options, unchanging, unmalleable – tends to plague a lot of questions about what games to recommend to a person (usually without meaning to, or realizing). Gender essentialism when asking these questions is, by its very nature, quite reductionist. That is, thinking that every man shares the same interests and wants to play certain games, and that women would have a different set of interests and therefore different needs out of game playing, means you have 2 narrow definitions of people. What this doesn’t take into account is the spectrum of gender that all of us exist on – no one woman is precisely performative of the ideal “feminine” concept of what a woman should be, nor is any man entirely representative of the “masculine” concept for men. On top of this all, the gendered questioning regarding game recommendations completely ignores those who are non-binary, gender fluid or trans*.

When I see a request for game recommendations for “my wife/girlfriend/daughter”, it very rarely comes with any qualifying factors such as “has this person played games before at all?” “has this person has enjoyed (x) type of game?” or “this person enjoys (y) type of theme or (z) type of gameplay”. What these sorts of gender-based queries assume is that women who aren’t gamers (or at least game infrequently) will all be interested in the same kinds of games. That’s a presumption that shouldn’t be made about anyone – even if they’ve not played board games before, or even if they have!

I understand, of course, that nouns such as wife/husband, daughter/son are useful in a way that defines the poster’s relationship to this person rather than saying something like “I’m looking for games Betty might like”, a less helpful pointer as to who the person is. Unfortunately, this use of nouns then lands us in the waters of murky gendered assumptions, where the “wife” must be understood in feminine terms as must the “son” or “daughter” in terms of what games they’d be interested in (where, with children, I believe age is a far more important category to use for game recommendations, on top of interests/games enjoyed previously).

Personally, I would hate to be stereotyped into a box of what “women” are, and should like as far as board games go. My interests are varied outside of board games, and that drives me to be interested in trying all sorts of games, especially when theme is involved. But it must also be realized that my interests don’t define me entirely. I’ve certainly never been interested in building an estate in medieval France, but heck if one of my favourite games isn’t Castles of Burgundy. I love the gameplay so much!

If you had a partner who had assumed on behalf of your gender presentation alone that a particular game might not be up your alley, you might never know what games you’re missing out on. Make the effort to consider someone as a whole person – their interests, the types of fun they like to have, what games they’ve liked before – and you will likely be far more successful in encouraging that person to game, and have fun while doing it. And – as a bonus – come back for more!

I’d like to leave you with an image that I keep going back to when I see all sorts of gendered marketing and gendered questions when it comes to finding toys/games etc. While it is pretty basic (it tends towards biological assumptions rather than gender identity) I still think it makes a great point. Don’t boil your decisions down to something you’re assuming one “type” of person is – in all areas of your life, it will be a great way to go forward.

Image by Kristen Myers. Click through for more info.

Algonquin Park Camping, summer 2015

The first time I went to Algonquin Park was back in 2007, when I went for a long day trip. I hugged a big tree, saw a moose and a chipmunk and was generally delighted with how lovely it was there. It’s astonishing I haven’t made it back until this year, so I got pretty excited at the prospect of a 4 day weekend of camping there!

Friends Dan & Kirsty had been camping in Algonquin Park before & are all set up with great gear & know-how so they were our bastions of excellence for the trip! We decided on a pet-friendly campground (Canisbay Lake) so we could bring our dogs, and got all set with plans. Pals Fiona & Dan were coming too, so we bundled into their car with Jake for the trip! Luckily Dan & Kirsty had a lot of what we needed, and we were able to borrow a tent from friends here in Toronto who camp often.

It was so nice to get away for a slightly extended long weekend (thanks, civic holiday!). While the weather wasn’t perfect (rain showers each day, and big rain overnight our last night there), we made the most of the non-rainy parts of the weekend. For starters, we went canoeing! I had never done this before and was slightly nervous about being out on a big lake in a small boat – but it was so fun. Once we got ourselves sorted out and paddling nicely, we had a couple of trips. One was to toodle around a small island in the lake not far from the main beach, and then the other was to follow a bit of the shoreline around in a loop. It’s a calming thing, having a nice paddle on a gorgeous lake.

We also went on a nice big hike on the Track and Tower trail – it was lovely to be properly out in the woods and see a couple more lakes, and go up to the lookout there. We weren’t exactly right in the wilderness with our campsite, so the hike was great to have a taste of that and get some exercise. The dogs loved it too! Jake really took to wandering up and down the trail with us, and investigating everything. We didn’t see any wildlife, but heard a bunch of birds and saw gorgeous flora and geology!

Apart from the great outdoor adventures, it was just super to hang out with two of my fave couples! We did some fun camp cooking (and Dan and Kirsty were the BEST about bringing delicious stuff for Adam and I to add to our tofu etc), and I had my first smore and made a fire cone! And when we weren’t eating (which, let’s face it, we were eating a lot), we played some games! We also had some fun with weird fire and sparklers on our last night before the rain hit.

It was a great weekend, and I felt so rejuvenated being out there in Algonquin, which is a stunning provincial park. Having a dip in the lake, sitting by the fire, cuddling Jake and Adam in the tent and waking up to the sounds of birds was just what I needed! Sure it was nice to come home to creature comforts, but I’m already thinking about the next time I can get away camping!

If you enjoyed the photos here, my full set is on Flickr.

A quick ‘n’ dirty how to DIY Cold Brew Coffee!

If you have coffee, and time, then you can have cold brew coffee in the comfort of your own home. Here’s the very easy steps that me & Adam use at home to make cold brew! You will want to do this. Summer times means great cold coffee.

Step 1: Take your coffee beans (this lot was a Burundi from local roaster Cut Coffee, but we like most Pilot Roaster beans too!). Measure out 60gm, then grind on a coarse setting like you would when making a hot French Press brew.

Step 2: Pop your coffee grounds in a French Press, and pour 425ml in there.

Step 3: Using a spoon (or Aeropress paddle, like me!) gently stir the coffee grounds to make sure everything is saturated.

Step 4: Gently plunge the French Press filter down til it’s sitting just on the top of the water/grounds. Pop it in the fridge and leave it there for 12 hours!

Step 5: Don’t plunge the press! Instead, without jostling the grounds around too much, just pour the coffee out as-is – it’ll still be filtered through the mesh (although if you want things very clean, you can also pass it through a V60 filter or something too).

Step 6: This makes 2 servings of nice strong cold brew – take half and pop it into a glass and add the same amount of cold water as coffee to top it up, or pour it over a nice full glass of ice. Enjoy!!!

ENJOY!!!! You will really get to experience the variety of tasting notes in coffee with cold brewing, and I highly recommend trying it at least once. Your results may vary, but it’s definitely worth a try!

Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano #ROMPeii

Disclaimer: I work at the Royal Ontario Museum, and do not have to pay the fee to see the exhibition (but I’m also a ROM Member). I was not involved in any way with the development of the exhibition, however.

In the week leading up to the opening of Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano at the Royal Ontario Museum there was an animation of the smoking peak of Vesuvius on the outside of the building. It got a little worse as the days went on – this was taken on Thursday night:


Then on Friday evening, there was this explosive display:

It was pretty spectacular! But does the exhibition itself live up to this excitement?


Much of it is fairly understated story of what life was like in Pompeii, to establish context. Although I’d seen a lot in UK/Euro museums about Roman life, the items on display are all very specific to Pompeii & daily life there, which piqued my interest. On top of that, there was a lot of great information about the geology of the area & how the eruption played out.

Displays on what everyday people wore, as well as nobles and the military started off the exhibition. There’s a great spot to see if you can tie a toga on and have it look as badass as the ones in the marble statues.

Getting my toga on! #FNLROM #ROMpeii

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on


_DSF6867 _DSF6869

Information dipped into theatre, religion and sex too. Pompeii had quite a thriving drama scene, it seems – two major stadiums! I had no idea. (The first image below is that of two statues of actors). And then I was also enlightened to the fact that phalluses were a sign of good luck in ancient Pompeii/Rome, which explains this super fancy windchime.

_DSF6872 _DSF6880 _DSF6879 _DSF6875

That last image is of an earthquake scene Pompeii had survived prior to the massive eruption – what a volatile area of the Mediterranean to live in. But it seems like overall, it was a beautiful area to live, right on the water with a gorgeous mountain right there and thriving marketplaces. I was most taken by the carbonized food remains found at Pompeii – as much as anything, an amazing snapshot of people’s tastes and diets. (Just don’t read too much into how they made fish sauce…) Bread, figs and olives, oh my!

_DSF6874 _DSF6868 _DSF6885 _DSF6887

So – society, military, religion, fine foods.. what left but art? Gorgeous and usually functional pieces, friezes & mosaics pepper the exhibition. The glass at the end was found, likely having been trapped in an enclosed space set on fire by the eruption.


Ocean mosaic #ROMpeii

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

Thought maybe the #torontopeacock had come out to see #ROMpeii for a moment..

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

_DSF6891 _DSF6894 _DSF6884

Ride eternal, not so shiny and bronze. Ride that fountain wineskin like you mean it, bro. #ROMpeii

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

_DSF6899Of course, everyone knows that the story of Pompeii won’t have a happy ending. Moving through the exhibiton, near the end you will find yourself in a darkish space – a statue slightly in the distance, doomy gloomy lighting and a projection of Vesuvius erupting on the far wall. An infographic off to the side lays out a lot of the geological information, and the timeline that the residents of Pompeii would have experienced – and the time at which it would’ve been too late for them.

_DSF6897 _DSF6902

After this, there’s a stark space that hosts a number of casts of the victims of the eruption, prone in their poses of death. The focus on their remains and their stories is really well done, with nothing to detract from that. (As opposed to the cast of the dog, pictured below, which is actually at the very start of the exhibition, and a pretty distressing thing to see straight up front.) I won’t show them all, as I think it’s worth going through the exhibition to learn about the lives the people of Pompeii led, and how unfortunate their deaths were.

_DSF6906 _DSF6860


I think the sombre end to the exhibition is the best way to finish the story of Pompeii, without going on afterward. My overall impression is the flow & design of the space weaves through the displays very well (although some parts are prone to bottleneck). Lighting is great, reproductions of art used for negative spaces & bare walls makes a huge difference in enjoying the exhibition, and breathes some life into it. I especially thought the dramatic “eruption” space with the gloomy/flickering lighting was effective.

Even though most of my visits have been fairly brief, I’ve had a chance to learn some key information and facts, because the text isn’t presented in overwhelming chunks. Short blurbs, quotes, etc draw the viewer in easily, and those more keen on finding out more can read on further – and I think the very focused nature of the exhibition and its story overall can help stave off visitor fatigue. It definitely makes a visit to just one part of a very large museum easier, too.

If you’re in Toronto and want to check out #ROMpeii (best hashtag ever, am I right?) then it’s running until January 3rd 2016. It’s an engaging look at the life and death of Pompeiians, with family interactives and great information. There’s a lot of events going on, too. And if you’d like to read something about the exhibition not by me, head to Justin & Lauren’s blog about it here. (They’ve even been to the real Pompeii!)

Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano runs until January 3rd 2016. Tickets are inclusive of general admission and cost: $28 adults | $25.50 students/seniors | $20 children 4-14 years (toddlers 3 & under are free) | Members FREE.

The ROM is open daily 10am – 5.30pm (and to 6.30pm on Fridays), except December 25th. Check out Best Value Fridays after 4.30pm!

Terrarium Tuesday (yeah, I’m making that a thing just for this post) – my slightly dodgy how-to.

Recently I found myself wanting a little more green on my desk at work. I was browsing at a local Value Village and found a nice miniature glass bowl that inspired me to look into making a terrarium. After I picked that up, I went to a local florist who helped me pick some air plants (I don’t have direct light at my desk) and moss and I kinda winged it to make my first terrarium. Plus, I had that little dino guy just waiting to pop in there.

None of the ideas – moss, decorative rocks, fishbowl, dino – are my own original ideas, but had been sitting at the back of my brain after seeing terrariums pop up all over the place on the internet. A quick Pinterest search will find you up to your eyeballs in info on how to make terrariums, the best plants for them, etc. I certainly didn’t make mine using instructions nor everything a proper terrarium should probably have (the layers of sand and active charcoal…etc). There are incredible things you can do with planting/sculpting that makes everything basically like a tiny environment. I just wanted mine to look pretty – and enough friends asked how I did it that I thought I’d throw a quick blog up about it.

My Sunday evening:

Terrarium time!

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

I’d found three lovely, larger glass bowls/vases that were perfect (again at Value Village!) and stocked up on some more moss, plants and dinosaurs (totally necessary). I’d thought about more rocks, sand and maybe wood chips for decoration, but kept it simple. Maybe next time.


_DSF6910 _DSF6908

I also found a super cute little ceramic pagoda at a bonsai stall in the neighbourhood that I put in the smaller cylindrical terrarium I made, now on my bedside table.

This is so much fun.

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

To begin with, line the bottom of your glass bowl with stones – enough to give a level where the soil will be able to drain. I had a cheap bag of stones from Dollarama which was big enough for me to use for this purpose, as well as a few for decoration (along with the bigger stones I had).


Next, with a little soil on top of the rocks, place your plants. For my selection I went mostly with succulents, a few air plants (placed after moss), and one spiky cactus (which, ow – getting those into glass bowls needs some more heavy duty gloves than I have). I don’t have much of a rule for this except try and mix sizes/shapes to something that looks good, and I didn’t have more than 3 plants in my fishbowl sized terrariums. Every plant had an inch or so of soil between the others.


Then fill the spaces around the plants, and up over the roots, pack it down and make sure there’s enough – then tidy it up a little.


Once you have enough soil around the plants, it’s time to place your moss. If you have a “sheet” of it, you might have to tear it up a bit (or if you’re using 100% air plants, you’d just plant it down on the soil and put the air plants right on top!). I put in clumps of moss and then just spread it around with the handle of my little gardening spoon (yes, spoon).


After you’ve tidied the moss and pressed it down, then it’s time to put any other decorations in there you like – nice decorative stones, driftwood, ceramic/plastic figures, etc. Find little nooks to pop your air plants down into at this point, if you have them. They sit nicely in the moss.

_DSF6917 _DSF6918

Then if there’s soil/whatever that’s gotten anywhere on the glass, get in with a paper towel to give it a bit of a wipe, and then you’re all finished! Marvel at your creation and enjoy the little pod of green garden you’ve made for yourself.


_DSF6923 _DSF6922

Questions/comments/suggestions? I’m hoping to try making some smaller ones of these in mason jars soon, as I have a lot of soil and moss left!! If I can find a cheap place for succulents/air plants, then I’ll stock up and go to town making gifts.

EMP Museum Seattle (review = image heavy!)

The EMP Museum in Seattle is like someone asked “what is Nicole a nerd about?” and made a museum (minus the board games, get on it EMP!). The EMP Museum used to be the “Experience Music Project” but has grown to be generally a pop culture – film, movies, music etc – museum in a gorgeous Gehry building.

_DSF6703 _DSF6702 _DSF6701

I was lucky enough to be in town while the Star Wars costume exhibition was showing, and made a beeline to see that first. It is a mix of costume and design information from the newer prequels, and also the original trilogy. Even though I’m not as much of a fan of episodes 1-3, the costuming is incredible and it was amazing to see it close up.

_DSF6598 _DSF6601 _DSF6603

But I did get the most, nostalgically, out of the older info, designs and costuming. I especially loved the sketches and inspiration cited for many of the costumes, and the droid design. Beautiful stuff.

_DSF6606 _DSF6605 _DSF6602 _DSF6613 _DSF6611 _DSF6610

Next stop were a couple of smaller exhibitions as part of the (what I believe to be) permanent displays. I didn’t know they were part of the museum (I planned my visit poorly, obviously) and I was so excited to wander through. The first was “Can’t Look Away: the Lure of Horror Film“. There’s a little bias on some of the content due to the directors that consulted & curated clips of their favourite films (Roger Corman, John Landis, and Eli Roth), but it does a great job at looking at the genre overall, highlighting the history of the iconic movies in the genre, looks at monsters and fear and has loads of cool artefacts on display. I legitimately flipped out at the Sean of the Dead shirt. It had a lot of great information, and was a good primer for those not familiar with horror movies. And the design of the space, plus the audio playing around there, was perfect.

_DSF6630 _DSF6632 _DSF6633 _DSF6636 _DSF6638 _DSF6642 _DSF6643

Heading out of horror into Sci-Fi, the Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction exhibition has a bit less of a narrative, but still showcases the vastness of the genre  in film and TV very well, old school and new. Terminator 2 is one of my fave all time movies, so I geeked out a lot at that little glass case, but really enjoyed all of the stuff on display. So much is from a private collection, I’d love to be in a place to have that stuff in my own collection!

_DSF6646 _DSF6647 _DSF6649 _DSF6651 _DSF6652 _DSF6654 _DSF6656

Onto something slightly more laid back, the Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibition was thematically a gorgeous space (down to the stone walls, magic tree structures and fake pine needles on the floor) and had a lot of my favourites in there. I really enjoyed the interactives they had on various screens in this exhibition too – taking quizzes to see what kind of fantasy archetype you are, creating a map of a fantasy kingdom etc. It was a real treat to see the Princess Bride costumes and weapons!

_DSF6658 _DSF6661 _DSF6663 _DSF6664 _DSF6666 _DSF6670

I wandered the “main” part of the building after that, popping into the Indie Game Revolution exhibition and also checking out the very cool Sound Lab interactive (I learnt to play a little hook on the piano!). Marveled at the massive guitar installation, too.

_DSF6675 _DSF6678 _DSF6700

_DSF6683 _DSF6676

My last stop was the Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses exhibition. I came a little late to being a fan of Nirvana, but in the mid 90s I was a huge fan of grunge in general, especially Pearl Jam. And that also influenced a lot of the music I ended up getting into, especially other punk and riot grrl. This blurb about the exhibiton says it as well as anything else: “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses explores the public and personal story of a single band, but it also invites visitors to discover the underground music scene in which Nirvana developed.” I very much enjoyed the look at the band’s development in context of the local scene, and especially the ‘oral history’ of music around that time, which was accessible at screens throughout the exhibition to sit down and explore. There were also lots of music stations throughout the exhibition to listen to Nirvana’s music from certain periods, along with their peers.

_DSF6684 _DSF6690 _DSF6692 _DSF6693 _DSF6694 _DSF6696

I felt a lot of emotion and connection to the exhibitions I saw at the EMP Museum. Usually when I’m visiting a museum in a city, it’s pretty history-centric, about a place/culture/environment. This was about stuff I loved, and it was great to have that experience when visiting a museum.

The EMP Museum is open daily, you can buy tickets online & also (like I did) get them as part of the Seattle City Pass. The price is a little high, but for the extensive content on display, I believe it’s worth it – especially when you are passionate about pop culture!

Things I Love Thursday – a little esoteric ramble.

In many places on the internet, my username (when it’s not Nicole) is “iheartmuseums”. Back when I was trying to go with something a little more personal but not my actual name, I figured.. well, this is pretty accurate! Despite all the other things I’m into, I’m a museum lover for life. I’ve had a few people wonder recently about my username and what it is I love so much about museums, so I figured this irregularly scheduled TILT  can be about that!

(I’m just going to pepper this post with some of my fave museum pics from the large Flickr set I have, to make it not a giant wall of text!)

I grew up in a rural town not near any large cities with museums. I was lucky enough to travel each summer to Sydney with my mum and/or grandmother, and would frequently visit the Australian Museum and the Powerhouse Museum. It was astonishing and awe-inspiring for a kid like me who grew up watching all the Attenborough docs she could to be able to walk around institutions like those and see the collections and research and exhibitions all around me and realize there were people doing this as their jobs and their careers.

As I got older I traveled to Sydney each year less and less. My connection with museums waned. It wasn’t until my last (or second last?) year of high school that it sparked again. My ancient history class took a field trip to Brisbane (about a 5 hour drive from where I lived!) to visit the Antiquities Museum at the University of Queensland, as well as the Anthropology Museum at the same campus, and also the Queensland Museum. I remembered that same wonder and awe, being surrounded by objects and information and stories.

A few years later, I ended up attending the University of Queensland. In my first semester as an anthropology/archaeology student, we visited both the museums I’d been to back in high school and I had this weird feeling. Not (just) of deja vu and realization that hey, I was back in these places, but also that I belonged there. That finally I’d decided to study something and be in a place where I could engage with museums not just as a visitor but as a student, a theorist, a collection manager, and… well, and a nerd.

Sure, you say. I get excited about museums. But why do I heart them?? Hold your breath.. There’s quite a few reasons. Starting with that physical feeling – being surrounded by the architecture of museums, the large gallery spaces, the historic buildings and the enormity of that. The interesting and necessary research being done behind the scenes. Being in exhibitions that show you the history of a place or of a people. Learning things outside your limited experience of the world. Expanding your understanding of the world and how that can positively impact your respect of the environment, animals and people living in it. The beauty of objects, natural or made by humans (or even sometimes animals).

What draws me in most of all is objects. This really reached out to me during my studies, and shaped my interest and focus on museums and material culture. Objects have such power and history and information and stories contained in them. Every little thing about a piece in a museum’s collection says something. Be it a stone tool from Africa, a fossil from China, a textile from India.. Where did it come from, what is it made of, who made it? When you look at the texture of it, you think about how it came to be. What was it used for? Natural history specimens tell a whole story of their own, not being made by humans – but their origin and genetics are key; a lot of research is done looking at museum collections over many years to see the narrative of the change of species and their environments. There are quite a few museums with specimens of extinct species, which as objects are full of information and history. Looking at a Dodo in Oxford was something that sparked a lot of things for me.

Nothing drives me more as a museum visitor and as an enthusiast than fascinating objects and how they connect me to the world. When I’m working in a collection, I’ll always crave finding out more through the databases and object history files. When I’m in a gallery, I’ll always seek out interpretive information. Objects have stories – some of them short, long, interesting, simple – and museums go a long way to sharing those stories. I love that, and I love museums.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,628 other followers