Evolving Normal Happenings: Building the Infrastructure for The Characters That Define Us

We approach the end of August, and there is absolutely nothing on the horizon.

Well, except for one thing.
Just, you know, a gigantic year-long collaboration the likes of which the blogosphere has never soon.
Other than that, nothing at all!

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We’ve got huge plans for this project, but we’ve got to get there.

We’re throwing all we’ve got at the year 2020:

  • Feature pieces.
  • Daily Inklings.
  • Modern Designs.
  • Hopefully something very huge I’ve yet to reveal.
  • And of course the cornerstone: 57 incredible pieces for our collaboration.

Right now we are a beautiful city with tall skyscrapers and hip boutique restaurants.
But we have dirt roads and rope bridges.
We need infrastructure.

We’re making the call. We’re moving to a self-hosted platform.

I need all the power of CSS, HTML, plug-ins, scripts, storage space, etc to pull this off. Mad art requires mad power, and I’m afraid WordPress.com simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. Luckily for me, you all are constantly incredible at supporting us on social media, so we’re going to be just fine.

Here’s the deal. I need all the time from now to December to front-load this project. I have to design and write like mad starting right now to pull this thing off. That means I’m pushing all blog posts, all Daily Inklings, all Mario Maker courses — all everything except promoting The Characters That Define Us. I am determined to facilitate making 2020 a year-long thrill-ride of artistic goodness.

How can you help? Just keep being there for us, encouraging us along the way. Keep up with us on Twitter, and share social media posts so others can enjoy this group’s hard work in 2020. And if you want to help us offset the costs, we’d very much love for you to pitch in as a Patreon supporter! We’ll keep you updated on our progress.

You can feel the anticipation rising. The Characters That Define Us — the most ambitious blogging collaboration we’ve ever done — approaches. Let’s do it right.


Did you know we’re part of the best community of bloggers in the world? Now that the Normal Happenings Starry-Eyed Discord is up, we’re having incredible conversations every day! You can join us right now by becoming a Patron of Normal Happenings! Also, $5+ Patrons unlock Snail Mail Inklings and get featured in very special blog posts!

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Places We Missed Due to Time + Video Playthrough | Super Mario Maker 2 Original Course

As requested, I’ve made a video playthrough with commentary for this course. I discuss this lengthy course, the design philosophy behind it, and key inspiration for makers looking to get into SMM2. I hope you enjoy!


Today I’d like to share something a little different I think you are going to enjoy.

I have a unique relationship with relaxation. I’m not the type of person who tends to sit idle to build back up strength. Instead, I seem to always be in the process of thinking, designing, writing, and crafting in order to restore energy. This act of creating is a coping mechanism for me to deal with anything life throws at me, so you’ll often find be using acts of creation as an outlet.

This is backed up in my choices of career and hobby. Design, public relations, writing, cooking – it’s all about solving problems in precise and creative ways.

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It’s no surprise, then, that crafting Mario courses would is calm retreat for me. I pour my emotions into my manifestations, letting my creative energy flow into a course. Each one makes sense in my head from a narrative perspective, and even though it’s impossible to tell a written story in a course, the audience can catch glimpses of those “sentences” as they progress through the journey.

I hope you don’t mind me sharing my stories here on Normal Happenings, with my first being “Places We Missed Due to Time.” This is a very lengthy course, and although it’s not “expert,” you will run out of time. I’m sorry, but that’s appropriate to the theme of the course.

I’m going to share pictures from view mode, giving you a birds-eye view. This shows off the full extent of the design intricacies of the course, sans a few secret areas. But I want you to experience it yourself to gather the full impact, so I won’t be walking you through a play session.

So, grab your Switch and enter:

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Be sure to heart and leave a comment.

The world record is currently 22 minutes by our very own Andrew Turnwall, so I’d say there is room for the sweet thrill of victory if you set your mind to it.

Also, if you want me to play your course, simply drop the name, difficulty, and course ID into the comments. I’ll let you know what I think! 

Please enjoy the places we missed due to time!

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We’ve got some friends in the community who are makers as well! After you get done with my course, you should check out these two fun ones!

Andrew Turnwall – The Ink-Stained Mage
“The Spring’s the Thing” — DTF-8JJ-B5G

Shelby from Falcon Game Reviews:
“Yoshi Fun” — B8M-Y79-3JF

That’s a wrap! | Completed 8/4/19 11:20 P.M.

Did you know we’re part of the best community of bloggers in the world? Now that the Normal Happenings Starry-Eyed Discord is up, we’re having incredible conversations every day! You can join us right now by becoming a Patron of Normal Happenings! Also, $5+ Patrons unlock Snail Mail Inklings and get featured in very special blog posts!

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Angie from Backlog Crusader Drew Us Some Incredible Art

In exchange for pushing our Super Mario Maker 2 course to Monday, I wanted to spend a moment showing you the coolest thing ever!

Last month I became of Patron of Angie from Backlog Crusader! She’s an amazing blogger who frequently writes compelling posts about games and other geek-related topics. She’s also participating in The Characters That Define Us!

Suddenly she’s asking me on Discord what my “favorite animal or mythological creature is.” It’s a no-brainier — a jellyfish! I love jellyfish for a hundred reasons, but that’s another post!

I check the mail a week later, and find a thank-you note from Angie. Inside is a beautiful Jellyfish!

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At about the same time, this section appears on her “Patreon Wall of Fame!”

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Thank you Angie for the amazing art. I keep finding new details. It’s hanging on our freezer door, reminding us that there are far more appetizing ocean-creatures than a jellyfish to eat for dinner!

We should also mention that Angie is a Snail Mail Inkling Patron of Normal Happenings. So, if you’re looking for two bloggers to support on Patreon, we could think of worse options.

Be sure to visit the Backlog Crusader Patreon, and of course the latest on her blog!

That’s a wrap! | Completed 7/29/19 11:37 P.M.

Did you know we’re part of the best community of bloggers in the world? Now that the Normal Happenings Starry-Eyed Discord is up, we’re having incredible conversations every day! You can join us right now by becoming a Patron of Normal Happenings! Also, $5+ Patrons unlock Snail Mail Inklings and get featured in very special blog posts!

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We Were Here; We Are Here

Hello beautiful WordPress editor. Hello beautiful laptop and Photoshop and Chrome and all the other ingredients needed to craft a blog. I know it’s only been a month, but I’ve missed you like crazy. I’ve missed coming up with Inklings designed as trail heads to guide my lovely audience down their path to a complete piece. I’ve missed compiling my thoughts into introspective essays about my own life journey. And most importantly, I’ve missed you — my blogging family — and the always-encouraging remarks we all share with each other.

I’m a fan of short reintroductions, so instead of dwelling on the tamper-proof past, I’d prefer to jump right in, flip all the switches back to their online mode, and get to work!

What is it like to truly know a place completely and move away, only to come back later by choice? When we moved from Montgomery, Alabama to St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., I knew almost everything about the “Gump,” as it were. That’s the coolest nickname for Montgomery of a city fraught with uncool nicknames, so that will be its frequent designation on Normal Happenings. The history, the culture, the roads, and the geography of the place were second-nature to me, even if I spent most moments pushing against them with stubborn resilience. I never caught an American Southern accent — honestly my syntax fits far closer to that of an STL-native.

Still, the rolling topography of Central Alabama was my home, and among the historical infamy of the place, I also had history with the people. Family and friends had built their lives, core values, and houses upon the green hills, and, it seems, so did I despite myself. Before I knew it, I had become respected nonconformist who questioned established norms. I’ve been reminded frequently of late how “liked” I was — something I couldn’t really validate in the moment.

I carried those feelings with me to STL; but honestly being away from it all was a breath of fresh air to me. Sure, it took a while to find my footing in STL, but once I did I enjoyed being away from everyone I knew. We began making friends, and found ourselves being appreciated much quicker than before.

So, when this opportunity in Alabama came up, we were notably torn. On the one hand, this was a solid career-move for me, with better benefits and markedly lower cost of living. On the other, it would require us to leave the place we loved — STL offered us a place to heal from past wounds, and we did so with us much grace as we could muster.

Oh, and, it was the birthplace of Normal Happenings… so there’s that.

There is one thing about Alabama, however, that makes things not-so-bad anymore — and it’s not about the state. At the end of the day, home is not a place. Humans have moved beyond the need for the protection of a village, and the world is a lot smaller than it was even a century ago. Home is your values, your experiences, and the people you bring with you. Home, for me, is making an impact in people’s experiences and spreading positivity to those you meet as travelers through this life.

And so, though I would honestly rather be in St. Louis, I can say with sincerity that it’s good to be home.

That’s a wrap! | Completed 7/29/19 11:07 P.M.

Did you know we’re part of the best community of bloggers in the world? Now that the Normal Happenings Starry-Eyed Discord is up, we’re having incredible conversations every day! You can join us right now by becoming a Patron of Normal Happenings! Also, $5+ Patrons unlock Snail Mail Inklings and get featured in very special blog posts!

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Goodbye St. Louis, You Gave Us the World

Over the last week or so, we’ve mentioned that we’d be undergoing significant life changes. It’s time to share those with our blogging family.

The Daily Inkling for January 16, 2019 was:
You return to your hometown or community after five years of being away. Give us a rundown as you rediscover things place-by-place with new eyes.

Let’s turn that into a fact.
We’re returning to our hometown after two years of being away. We’re preparing to rediscover things place-by-place with new eyes.

Such is life.

On July 1st, we’ll be moving back to Montgomery, Alabama U.S. I got a terrific position as a public relations professional – a career-advancing opportunity far too good for me to pass up. I don’t recall ever feeling such mixed emotions.

Let’s talk career. I believe in blessings – and that sometimes those blessings pay off as a consequence of hard, God-focused work. As such, I could not be more grateful or humbled that a 27-year-old could be entrusted with such a role.

Honestly and objectively, there’s a lot to like about a strangely thriving Sun Belt city, free from the stress of ice storms and a relatively short drive to the beach. The cost of living is low. The food is good-ish* – it is Alabama, after all. Let’s be real, Montgomery is doing some great things despite having a mixed reputation at times. Everywhere has darkness alongside the light.

*Sidebar: Alabama is known for its legendary food, but I’m not a fan of Southern food. Southwestern and Mediterranean food all the way for me. Though I admit I can make one heck of a poppyseed chicken casserole.

Yet, we’re sad. We have learned to love our home here in St. Louis. We’ve met some amazing people, and worked with three incredible bloggers! We’ve also done lots of healing here, because despite all of the positives referenced, we were both in a pretty dark place when we moved away. Such distance from our families and those we grew up with provided us with the one thing we needed most – perspective.

Our world bigger, we set upon casting off the opinions of others and finding our true nature. We like the people we’ve found, and are nervous we might lose them as we journey into the great unknown. I’m scared. I know we’ll be okay, but I’m scared. In many ways I wish we were moving somewhere completely new, but maybe the nearness is the next step in our healing process. I am, and always will be, optimistic in the face of a cynical world.

Now let’s talk about Normal Happenings. As we enter this time of transition, I actually feel I’m going to come out the other side with more time and energy to devote to my craft. As such, this might be a good time to go ahead and pursue another objective – that of transitioning to a self-hosted platform. More moving.

Such is life.

There are a lot of things we want to do design-wise regarding The Characters That Define Us! Normal Happenings is a blog of subtly, so don’t expect huge changes – just a few tweaks to change up the norm a bit. Bear with us as we build up our resources for a fantastic 2020.


We’ve ordering some special styluses laser engraved with The Characters That Define Us logo! Why? To reward our Patrons, of course! Any $5 and up Patrons by the end of June will receive one with their July Snail Mail Inklings! More on that in this post!

Did you know we’re part of the best community of bloggers in the world? Now that the Normal Happenings Starry-Eyed Discord is up, we’re having incredible conversations every day! You can join us right now by becoming a Patron of Normal Happenings! Also, $5+ Patrons unlock Snail Mail Inklings and get featured in very special blog posts!

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Special Patreon Reward: The Characters That Define Us Engraved Stylus

Happy Monday everyone! We would like to briefly tell you about a special offer for the month of June. We’re ordering some special styluses laser engraved with The Characters That Define Us logo! Why? To reward our Patrons, of course!

Well, okay, I do have one ulterior motive. I’m looking at the calendar and a very important date sticks out like a potentially sore thumb – well, a sore thumb if I didn’t have a stylus, that is. The 28th of June is when Super Mario Maker 2, the sequel to one of my favorite games ever, comes out on the Switch. Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, is offering styluses packaged with pre-orders of the game, except here in the U.S. I need a cool stylus to craft my masterpieces! I can’t make labyrinthine experiences in storytelling with my finger… ugh. And running to the nearest department store and snagging a generic stylus simply will not spark joy (or creativity). I’m sure all of use have particular uses for styluses as well.

A creative experience is best shared, so I’ll be sending out the styluses with July’s Snail Mail Inklings! So, as long as you’re at the $5+ tier level by the end of the month, you’ll be getting a shiny Characters That Define Us stylus in the mail. And your contributions will help us as production ramps up on the project!

So, join this small but growing list of Patrons and help us make great art (and possibly great Mario Maker courses, but I digress). More on our massive year-long collaboration project can be found here.

Shout-outs to our Patrons!

📨 Nerd Side of Life
📨 GamersUnitedGG
📨 Neko Jonez
The Shameful Narcissist Speaks
Rachel @ Double Jump
Livid Lightning
The Bizarro Mage | The Well-Red Mage
Dee Misses Games


Did you know we’re part of the best community of bloggers in the world? Now that the Normal Happenings Starry-Eyed Discord is up, we’re having incredible conversations every day! You can join us right now by becoming a Patron of Normal Happenings! Also, $5+ Patrons unlock Snail Mail Inklings and get featured in very special blog posts!

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Let’s Have Lunch: Why Eating Is Such a Struggle for Me

This post contains a mild trigger warning:
Nikki discusses eating disorders and the mental hurdles pertaining to them. We’ve tried to keep things light, but of course some details are necessary.

– By Nikki –

When I was a teenager I struggled heavily with an eating disorder.
There, I said it.

I’ve avoided writing about it because I have always felt like it’s something that I could control. My lowest point was when I was in high school and I found myself forcing a toothbrush down my throat to get rid of what I just ate. I would skip meals and exercise all the time, only to end up binge eating later in the week. I actually put on about 15 pounds from this issue in high school.

I finally got a handle on it in college. I stared counting my calories to make sure that I am consuming enough food, and I made it a point to exercise four to five days a week. I lost the weight (the 15 pounds) that I had gained overtime and I became very strong and confident. However, even now after all of my progress I have to keep a rigid routine to keep myself on track. If I skip a day or two at the gym, I start getting antsy about my size. If I have a splurge night, I start to worry that the girl that lost control in high school is going to come back. During busy times I often still forget to eat, or sometimes it is just too exhausting to consume food. I have to keep a close eye on my calories — avoiding both overeating and undereating — or the vicious cycle will continue for who-knows-how-long.

There is no voice dramatically telling me that I’m fat while eating dinner. Well, not anymore at least — that voice used to ring loud, honestly. I remember when I was in the trenches of my eating disorder and I saw myself in a window. Defeated by damaging self-image, I saw the unhappiest girl on the planet. Consequently, my weight fluctuated in high school because of this problem. However, sometimes I thought if I counted my calories and ate enough to get by I could achieve a smaller frame.

See, I let the voice in at times in my life, but now I choose to ignore her. It’s true, my eating disorder does manifest itself as a voice, but I have chosen for a long time now to act like she doesn’t exist and it works. So now I try to eat healthy foods on most days, and I usually give myself Saturday night to enjoy a fun cheat meal and dessert. I try to exercise four to five days a week to keep my body strong and on most days this process works for me. I feel better and more confident than I ever have. I think feeling good about my health routine and my confidence go hand-in-hand.

Honestly I don’t diet. I choose to live an overall healthy lifestyle and sprinkle in my splurge days. I usually can’t be around people that have food anxiety for long, and I don’t have any secret weight loss tips. Truthfully I think most diets and weight loss tips are bologna. I’m here to say I no longer weigh myself. I get obsessed with a number and I can’t function. I just pay attention to how my clothes fit me. I don’t do body transformation photos anymore because they make me get back into obsessive thought patterns about my body. I just live and if people ask my advice on how to lose weight I avoid giving it. It takes time to lose weight and to get fit. These overnight weight loss plans honestly cause more harm than good. I’ve been there, but I’ve come to the realization that many people don’t like to listen to experience, and they have to learn on their own the best strategy for themselves.

Each time I tell my story I get told that there is something wrong with my views on this issue. Despite my clean bill of health from my doctor. Despite my clothes fitting better. I don’t think that many people like to see other people being happy. In fact, if they can drag an otherwise happy person down, they will. Don’t let these people get you down. Instead try to just be happy and make deep connections with people that offer love and respect. No, cutting people completely off isn’t always the answer — often that’s unhealthy and harmful in my opinion — but just know the limits of what can and can’t be talked about with these people.

For those of us like me who struggle with an eating disorder, know that no matter how small or in shape I became, I was never able to perceive myself as good enough until I accepted myself for who I was instead of the number on a scale or the reflection in a mirror. That’s never easy to do, but hope can be found through surrounding yourself with encouraging people and seeking the help needed.

If you have dealt with any form of eating disorder, we would love to hear your story. Tell us your story in as many or a few details as you like. We’ll be around in the comments to talk!

For other recent pieces from Nikki, be sure to check out:
Dear Future Nikki
Animal Crossing | The Game That Defines Nikki


Did you know we’re part of the best community of bloggers in the world? Now that the Normal Happenings Starry-Eyed Discord is up, we’re having incredible conversations every day! You can join us right now by becoming a Patron of Normal Happenings! Also, $5+ Patrons unlock Snail Mail Inklings and get featured in very special blog posts!

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Glad Topographies: Finding Abundant Optimism in the World Around Us

To find optimism, all one must do is look around. 

Over the next few days, we are really going to attempt to strengthen our Instagram game. We’ll have a big announcement early next week — a little project Nikki is putting together.

However, as for now, I think I am ready to truly introduce you to my super secret Instagram. It’s called Glad Topographies. Some of you already follow, and I really appreciate it! But for the rest of you, well, I think it’s something you’ll truly enjoy!

In the past, I had been taking direct inspiration from the legendary @sadtopographies — with their blessing, of course — and finding only super happy place names.

Alas, there are only so many Oh-be-joyful Creeks in the world — and if I kept it up for too long it would reflect insincerity. There’s so much more to life than that.

Therefore, I’ve since simplified the premise, scouring Google Maps and finding cool, pretty places that reflect optimism. Included are amazing pictures credited to Instagrammers who have visited these interesting places. Follow to receive perhaps a jolt of wanderlust without all the touristy trappings common to the emotion.

That lends itself to a new weekly feature on Normal Happenings, which I’ll be calling This Week in Glad Topographies. I’ll simply be compiling the posts for that week, and reflecting further on them here on the blog!

This week we’ve attempted to discern the mystery of Agloe:

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Agloe, New York, U.S. 🇺🇲 — Where no one has gone before. Agloe is perhaps the most famous of the "paper towns," a concept made popular by the YA novel of the same name. It's simply a cartographer's trap, designed to ensnare counterfeiters trying to take advantage of the hard work of map makers. Like a fantasy world, Agloe only exists in our imagination. — So many Instagrammers tag Agloe to be ironic, but @emmaswanders and @nickaustin7 are the real deal for making the journey to Agloe. Full photo credit goes to them. — #agloe #newyork #notreal #fiction #fantasynovel #johngreen @johngreenwritesbooks #papertowns #papertown #books #maps #map #topography #geography #nowhere #imagination #ny #upstatenewyork #glad #contentment #gladtopographies

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We’ve ridden horses across the dunes of Tolowa:

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Tolowa Dunes, California, U.S. 🇺🇲 — Perusing the satellite view of the west coast, a certain flat terrain caught my eye just south of where Oregon and California meet. Tolowa Dunes and its collision of ocean side grassy dune and wooded ridge immediately obsessed me. Turns out many visitors ride these trails on horseback — no doubt an incredible way to enjoy an otherwise ordinary day. — Full credit goes to @chrishalsted and @nicolejeanhill for these incredible photos! Thanks @north_coast_redwoods for taking care of a place like this! — #california #pacific #pacificnorthwest #dunes #park #tolowadunes #coast #westcoast #leftcoast #oceanside #horseback #trail #trails #hiking #pines #ridge #peaceful #calm #happiness #glad #gladtopographies

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We’ve hiked the mountainside trails of Gladstone:

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Gladstone Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada 🇨🇦 — Glad Topographies makes its triumphant return! We're going to do things a little different this time around. We're not so much going to focus on finding the overtly happiest place names in the world, rather we're going to venture beyond the topographies. We'll be going to amazing places and seeing the sights of these epic life explorers who adventure to them. The world is beautiful, and anything is a Glad Topography in its own way! — Images of this beautiful park on the shore of Christina Lake are fully credited to @glendularfever and @johnsoda1234! — #hiking #hike #trekking #trek #lake #christinalake #wilderness #wanderlust #scenery #scenic #forest #outdoors #landscape #canada #britishcolumbia #trail #joy #gladtopographies

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And we’ve rounded the famous cape where two oceans meet!

Where will the future take us? Only time will tell — specifically, next Friday, and the one after that, and the one after that… Go follow Glad Topographies on Instagram!


Did you know we’re part of the best community of bloggers in the world? Now that the Normal Happenings Starry-Eyed Discord is up, we’re having incredible conversations every day! You can join us right now by becoming a Patron of Normal Happenings!

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