Skulls and Celtic Scenery

A Song of Life and Death

A poem by Brittany Schmidt


Life is.

Life is growing.

Life is learning.

Life is giving.

Life is taking.

Life is loving.

Life is laughing.

Life is celebrating.

Life is successful.

Life is setbacks.

Life is giving without take.

Life is heartbreaking.

Life is crying.

Life is mourning.

Life is learning to trust to God’s will and love.

Life in service to the Lord and his people is truth.

Truth is life well lived.


Death is.

Death is the shedding our earthly bodies.

Death is reflecting on our lives.

Death shows us how we’ve grown.

Death shows us how we’ve learned.

Death takes us from our mortal lives.

Death is defeated by a Savior who loves us.

Death is reuniting with God and Christ.

Through Christ, Death gives us new life.

Death is celebrating the graduation of our earthly life.

Life after death is success.

Life after death is no more heartache or tears.

Life after death is laughter and love.

Life after death is free of pain where we’re united with those we loved and lost never to be parted again.

In loving memory of those who went home to the Lord this week. Including my friend Rob’s Stepfather and my Uncle Fred’s Mother.

Love you. Mean it.



A Slayer Slain: A Short Story

‘Otherworldly Vampire Slayer’ by artifice22

This short story popped into my head as a dream I had after binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on YouTube. I always wondered what would of happened when the Slayer dies, how she feels in those moment. Although not explicitly explored and divulged into the protagonist and antagonist do share a familiar bond which adds a complicated layer to the story. This story isn’t arguably the best one I’ve written but I wanted to share this story here on my blog with all of you because I’m still super proud of it. So here, without further ado, I give you a sample of my new short story ‘A Slayer Slain’

A Slayer Slain

A Somewhat Short Story

by B.M. Schmidt

(Please note that NO part of this story may be shared or reproduced without explicit permission from the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.)

Rory stood in a dark and overgrown graveyard; the black outline of a small church was visible beyond a large yew tree to her right. A hill rose above them to her left. Rory could just make out the outline of a fine old house on the hillside. There was a moment of peace, before she was ambushed and all she could think of was her brother. Her smart, funny, slightly arrogant brother Jared Whitmore. He had been missing for one month, two weeks and eleven days. The clues that lead her to this place would lead her to the clan that had him. Luckily she didn’t need to wait long as she fought.

In hindsight, Rory would have defeated the vampires if it weren’t for Jared.

‘Kick left! Punch right! Kick right! Roundhouse!’ Her instincts screamed.

Rory had no choice she stood alone,surrounded by twenty or maybe even thirty vampires. She grabbed her stake and hummed to keep herself sane as she ripped through two, watching them fade to dust but they just kept coming. She was nearly out of breath, it hurt to inhale as she ducked the one which tried to grab her.

“Where’s my brother?” She bellowed at each one before delivering the fatal blow and they all smiled at her as though they shared some heinous secret about Jared that made her want to wretch violently. There was no time. There was never enough time, their Mother used to lament that on days she’d need to run errands with two young, often bickering kids in toe.

As she fought, Rory thought back to when she and her brother would play cowboys and Indians and how she’d often let him kill her so he could be the make believe hero, ‘I’ve killed you traitor, now Rest In Peace!’ He’d shriek as Rory faked an over the top dramatic death and they collapsed into a heap of laughter together.

Quickly she pushed these thoughts aside as she used the wooden heel of her shoe to dust off another foe. With little grace, Rory back-flipped off of one of her attacker’s torso and landed behind a headstone, coming back around with her stake.

She swiftly cut the heads off five vampires. The putrid scent of blood and decay filling the air as she moved with a sense of urgency and purpose.

‘Twelve left.‘ Her mind told her. ‘Where could they have him?’

Rory ducked a swing and cut the legs off of another, stoping him from getting around as she stepped on his chest, piercing his heart and keeping her balance as he turned into dust. She was on autopilot. Decapitate. Stake. Decapitate. Decapitate. Stake. Stake. Stake. Damn it, broken shoe. Back with a vengeance. Decapitate. Decapitate. Decapitate.

They were nearly gone, there should only be one more. She could feel him, watching her, just outside of her line of vision. She rested her stake in her hip and headed over to her weapons bag, to fetch her battle ax.

“Very impressive.”

Rory whirled around to see a familiar face attached to her final foe sitting atop a mausoleum. Jared was standing a few feet away from her, arms folded, looking at Rory curiously. There was no menace in his face or stance. He was so very average-looking, nothing remarkable about his face or body at all. Just the white skin, the circled eyes she’d was horrified to see. He wore a pale blue, long-sleeved shirt and faded blue jeans.

“Jared, you’re-?” Her breath caught in her throat as she realized she was too late, they’d turned her brother into one of them. Forever. Her heart sank deep in her chest, too late, but could she destroy someone she loved and shared blood with? What of their parents would they be safe?

“I’m immortal now, with power beyond my wildest imagination…but there’s one little problem, Ror, you’re killing all my new friends and this isn’t a game of cowboys and Indians you want to play…this is real life Sis,” he said casually observing the deceased members of his clan as nonchalantly as though he were discussing the weather.

“Get out of here, Jar, I don’t want to have to turn you into dust.” Rory warned, dropping her axe. It sliced through the leather of her shoes and cut her foot, but she ignored it and sprung up a tree, and leapt on top of the mausoleum.

“Well, I don’t know about the dust, but I’m impressed again. You’re a skilled Slayer, Rory…who is your guardian ?” Jared asked.

Rory glared, “I didn’t learn a damn thing from my guardian .”

Jared stood, smiling again, “So you have one. Well, sister dearest. Let me show you how it’s done.”

The pair launched into battle, as Rory managed to kick him down, “No, let me go! Just go! It’s kill or be killed, Jared and –” she gasped in a breath as a searing pain went through her chest along with the deafening crack of her rib cage.

The vampire, Jared, grinned as Rory fell to her knees, “And you just got killed, traitor, Rest In Peace”

Rory’s eyes widened, she was definitely sick now. There was more pain coming, she could see it in his eyes. It wouldn’t be enough for him to win, to feed and go. There would be no quick end like she’d been counting on. Rory’s knees began to shake, and she was afraid she was going to fall.

Jared stepped back, and began to circle, casually, as if he were trying to get a better view of a statue in a museum. His face was still open and friendly as he decided where to start.

Then he slumped forward, into a crouch Rory recognized, and his pleasant smile slowly widened, grew, till it wasn’t a smile at all but a contortion of teeth, exposed and glistening.

With a steak in her chest so she couldn’t help herself- Rory tried to run. As useless as she knew it would be, as weak as her knees already were, panic took over and she bolted for the wrought iron cemetery grates.

He was in front of her in a flash. She didn’t see if he used his hand or his foot, it was too fast. Another crushing blow struck Rory’s chest driving the stake further into her organs- She felt herself flying backward, every breath she drew labored and painful that’s when she heard the crunch as her head bashed into the angel statue . The stone head and wings buckled, as some of the pieces shattering and splintering on the grass beside Rory. She entered shock, a point she was too stunned to feel the pain. She couldn’t breathe…not anymore…

Bless Mother…Bless Father…Bless Brother…Bless family and friends…those good and those bad…to God almighty my soul I commend’ Rory thought as her brother walked toward her slowly.

“That’s a very nice effect,” he said, examining the mess of porcelain and stone, his voice friendly again. “I thought this would be visually dramatic and ironic place for you to die. That’s why I picked this place to meet you. It’s perfect, isn’t it?”

Rory ignored him, searing blinding pain ripping through her and yet still she scrambled on her hands and knees, crawling toward the gates.

He was over her at once, his foot stepping down hard on Rory’s leg. She heard the sickening snap before she felt it, but then she did feel it, and Rory couldn’t hold back her scream of agony as she fought twisted up to reach for her leg, the adrenaline was the only thing keeping her alive so she dared not try for the stake nor did she want to look up at him- he was standing over her, smiling.

“Would you like to rethink your last statement?” he asked pleasantly. His toe nudged Rory’s broken leg and she heard a piercing scream it took moment before she realized it was her own.

“Wouldn’t you rather have stayed at home with Mom and Dad and not looked for big, bad Jared?” he prompted.

“No!” I croaked. “No, Jared, don’t I’m your-” And then something smashed into her face, throwing her back into the broken stone angels.

Over the pain in Rory’s leg, she felt the sharp rip across her scalp where the glass cut into it. And then the warm wetness of blood began to pool out of her and spread through my hair with alarming speed. Rory could feel it soaking the shoulder of her shirt, hear it dripping on the wood below from her stomach, chest and head. So much blood was lost now, she wished for death as even the smell of it twisted Rory’s stomach.

Through the nausea and dizziness Rory saw something that gave her a sudden, final shred of hope. His eyes, merely intent before, now burned with an uncontrollable need. The blood – spreading crimson across her off white shirt, pooling rapidly on the floor – was driving him mad with thirst. The boy she grew up with was gone, his own turning is what inspired Rory to become a slayer. To destroy who distorted and destroyed her brother. No matter his original intentions, he couldn’t draw this out much longer.

‘Let it be quick now,’ was all she could hope as the flow of blood from Rory’s head sucked her consciousness away with it. Her eyes were closing…

She heard, as if from underwater, the final growl of the hunter which had once been her younger brother. Rory could see, through the long tunnels her eyes had become, Jared’s dark shape coming toward her. ‘The casket need to be open’ she thought sending her last conscious thought to her brother, her killer and with her last effort, Rory’s hand instinctively raised to protect her face. The face that she was told a million times resembled her Mother’s…their Mother’s beautiful face which was smiling at her that morning …was her last coherent though as Rory’s eyes closed for the last time, and she drifted to nothingness…


ah man that was dark, want to know a fun fact? I can’t stand scary movies but some of my best writing samples are horror and suspense. I blame my nightmares and an overactive imagination.

Love you. Mean it.



The Got’cha Bracelet Review

This week I am reviewing what is considered a spin-off of Pokemon GO+, the Gotcha is a based on a fitness tracker called the Fitgo Prime (or sometimes the Primefit) and helps you enjoy Pokémon Go on the move without looking at your smartphone! This is especially handy if you’re out to dinner with family at a place that happens to be a pokestop, it helps you catch Pokémon and collect items on the go. It provides the trainers on-screen and vibrates alerts. It works best with the ‘Auto-Spin/Catch’ mode on which allows the Go-tcha to do all the work for you and you don’t even need to respond – Go-tcha does it all! Collect Pokéballs, Potions, Eggs and other items at Pokéstops without you having to check your smartphone.

The Pros of The Product:

1. It’s Got Unique Features– Pokémon Go’cha offers the unique ability to auto catch Pokémon, auto collect items at Pokéstops when nearby and also the ability to turn on and off auto-Catch mode. It’s touchscreen and animated graphics are pretty basic but they get the job done, the vibration is strong enough that you can feel when you’re close to a pokestop so you’ll never miss out

2. It’s Sleek and Simply Designed– the Go-tcha looks very similar to a Fitbit. The device pops out of the silicone band and comes easy to recharge. I did struggle getting it in and out of the band and the band itself isn’t exactly pretty but I’ve read about it being similar to another product where you can swap out for me it’s not that big of a deal though. The device itself is small, sleek, and doesn’t attract attention while using a touch-sensitive button which cycles through several options, the display shows each option with icons.

A. Pokemon Capture – shown in the form of a Pokeball

B. Pokestop Spinning – shown in the form of Pokestop

C. Pokemon Found – shown with a question in the box

Each of these options have a box below it with an X option to turn it on or off. It also has an option in the cycle to turn on/off the vibration, which is good for while you’re in church. Having used Go-tcha for about a week now, I can affirm that this definitely comes in handy.

3. Battery Life and Charging– I played religiously for the last week and level up from 26 to 28 with the following results at the end of the week. I fully charged my product after I bought it, this took approximately 1 hour and lasted for approximately 12 hours under continuous use but during the week the standby time you can get from the device is approximately 48 hours. The got’cha comes with a unique charger, so if it ever gets damaged, it won’t be an easy task to finds its replacement but definitely not impossible if you do your research.

4. Connectivity– Go-Tcha shows up connected to Pokemon GO on a smartphone as if it were a real-deal Pokemon GO Plus device. As far as the game knows, the Go-Tcha is a Pokemon GO Plus device made by Niantic.

It had a 92% successful connection rate and it lasts a great deal longer than expected, even solving the Go plus connectivity issue.

The Cons of The Product

1. The bracelet itself could be available in more colors-The bracelet itself, while sleek and easy to wear can stand to have more variety. I would suggest making it available in each of the Pokémon Go team colors (red, blue and yellow) as well as solid black and all while.

2. Every time it charges or needs to be charged you have to reset your auto catch and spin settings– I’ve found that when my device needs to be charged or has just been charged I have to reset my preferences which is annoying cause sometimes I’ll forget and it doesn’t auto spin.

3. It Doesn’t Auto-Spin While Driving– A lot of people claimed the Got’cha auto spins up to 30 mph and I found this claim totally off base. I have a huge issue with Niantic banning passengers from spinning stops while driving but that’s a post for another time. Point is one of the reasons I purchased this device was thinking I could spin while driving. I found between 15-25 mph it will auto spin but anything else is wishful thinking.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Absolutely I would! It helps you enjoy the world around you while being “the very best!”

Love you. Mean it.



Marilyn Manson’s Diary (2018)

So I was going to do a review on my go’tcha bracelet but I wanted to give it a full week so I can give you guys the full rundown on the pros and the cons of getting this bracelet. In the meantime I haven’t posted any of my art in a while so I’m going to treat you guys to this piece which I sketched in my journal and then ran through my favorite app to filter some of my sketches with, which is Prisma.

One of the things I really love about Prisma is it has a unique ability to transform a basic sketch into something really artistic and fabulous without compromising the integrity of the original sketch. Art nowadays is more than just a pencil, charcoal, colored pencils, watercolor, oil and acrylic paints a lot of Art is done on the computer too. One of my favorite apps to sketch in is called MyBrushes. It’s around $3.00 in the App Store and you only have to download it and pay once. I’ve gotten new phones and never had to pay that again when I re-downloaded the app.

Using both my brushes and Prisma can take your art to the next level as far as creativity but for this piece I went back to basics and took a hand drawn piece and ran it through Prisma. The title for this piece called Marilyn Manson’s diary is roughly based off of the fact that I was sketching this skeleton moth while I was listening to Marilyn Manson’s beautiful people (you could even see surrounding the moth I have the lyrics to that song). I really enjoyed this piece because I’m really horrible at keeping journals I’ve tried and still do though. I even got one of those bullet journals from Michael’s but I always have my attention going in 7 different directions and like all journals I tend to fall off doing them. The fact that I’ve managed to update this blog every week or every two weeks at most is a very big feat for me. Sometimes I just don’t have anything to write about and when my muse takes a personal day I’m usually SOL (sh*t out of luck) so it’s during those times when I don’t have anything to write about I let my sketches speak for me. It might sound kind of tacky but that’s what you get with me sometimes.

I could probably pull some story out of thin air that I made this because I missed spring and everything is dead because it’s winter here where I live but it’s not that deeper meaning type piece. I was simply just listening to Marilyn Manson, letting my mind wander, and this is what I came up with.

While I know I promised a review, I did in fact come through with that to an extent because I suggested two apps for my fellow artists on here and also shared with you a little piece of my personal journal which I also sketch in from time to time. I hope you enjoy!

Love you. Mean it.


Let’s Be Ultra Friends!

Oh man guys! I been rocking and rolling with Pokémon Go, it’s bad, the last time I was this obsessed with a game it was when NASCAR team racing came out for the original PlayStation but this week was spectacular! My friend Pete and I hit Ultra Friend status during Pokémon Go’s friendship event last weekend.

What’s so great about Ultra Friends and WHY do you want one? Keep reading to find out!

What you gain:

1) 30,000 XP

2) Medium (0.92x) Stardust discount on Trading

3) Medium (1.07x) Gym and Raid attack bonus

4)+2 Raid capture balls

What you need to do:

I work a full time job AND manage a blog so giving of gifts to my buddies was virtually the only way to boost my friendships level (sorry all I’m a busy gal). In sending a gift once a day though to all of your friends, it will increase your friendship score each day. Here’s a useful tip though passed on to me by a friend though, try to alternate opening gifts each day with your friend. If you see a blue halo around their icon you’ve already gotten interaction credit for the day as pictured here:

As stated above, the blue halo means you received credit for interacting with that friend for the day and you should wait till the next day to open their gift. Please keep in mind it will take you 30 days to get to the Ultra friend level so patience is a virtue. The more friends you get the more you will need to spin Poké Stops to collect gifts —oh and you can only hold 10 gifts at a time so if you have lots of friends you’ll need to spin a lot of stops — but it is the tried and tested method. I feel like I should be obligated to note that Poké Stops are not always forthcoming with gifts so just keep at it and you’ll get to the level you need to be.

Gift giving is the only way to become Ultra friends with your Poké Pals from across the globe, I got friends in England, Switzerland, and Japan respectively. The key to upping our friendship level is by sending gifts cause darn oceans have to ruin everything 😉. Just by being persistent with giving and receiving gifts you will eventually reach the Ultra level and you and your friends will be able to battle remotely across the pond.

Battling remotely really is as good as it sounds but until you get to Ultra Friend level you’ll need to up the ante of your friend score through combat, in person. All you need to do is battle your friends at least once a day. I found that battling once a day effectively reduces the time it takes to become Ultra friends by half, meaning it’ll take you 15 days instead of 30, all the while racking up those prizes and getting in a lot of practice for when you start fighting in the leagues.

The final way to increase your friend level quickly is to join together to battle in gyms and raids. I love these experiences because there’s nothing like bonding with people from different walks of life over your love for a game. If you work together once a day you can get a boost to your friend level with each person you are in a Raid or gym battle with. Of course, they have to be your friends to start with, so use your QR code to become friends before you battle.

It should go without saying that this only works with friends you are close to locally but it has the advantage that it works in bulk. A lot of local towns by me have chat groups on Facebook messenger where we plan things so finding your towns chat group is key. If you’ve got six of your friends in a raid with you then all 6 of you will receive a boost to your friend levels. This means you can work together en masse to reach Ultra friend status and get to battling remotely from the comfort of your couch.

The End Game & My Only Gripe

If you do all three of these things, every day, you can dramatically reduce the time it takes to become Ultra friends in Pokemon Go. In doing two of these activities every day, you reduce the amount of time it takes to become Ultra friends to 15 days. By doing three of them every day, you reduce the amount of time it takes to become Ultra Friends to just 10 days. Now get out there and start making some friends!

That’s a huge time saver that will get your fighting with your friends remotely in no time! My only gripe is the only being able to hold ten gifts at a time, as a woman with 55 friends and not the most giving local Poké Stops it would be nice to be able to carry 30 gifts at a time but alas I’m just the peanut gallery. By the way if you haven’t added me-you need to!

Love you. Mean it.



Carolina Panthers: Peaks and Pits of 2018

This week as we say goodbye to the 2018 football season I’m going to talk about the peaks and the pits of the season. While the official slate isn’t wiped clean until Sunday night, here are the my Top 3 Peaks and Pits of 2018. While I wish there was more to write about, the writing muse has not done me any inspirational favors this week so here you have them. Which brings me to my age old question: Do you want the good news or the bad news first? I’ll deliver the pits first!

Top 3 Pits of 2018:

1. Saying Goodbye to Thomas Davis– Perhaps the crappiest part of our off-season so far is knowing TD will suit up for another team, possibly in our own division. This act of betrayal was brought on by the need to give Shaq Thompson his time to prove himself as more then a backup (and ultimately tell us if he’s worth big money), it still hurt us Panther fans like no other. While TD won’t hit the FA (free agent) market until March, it’s safe to say the BoA won’t be same without its defensive Mr. Reliable.

2. Cam’s Shoulder Woes- What’s worse then watching your Quarterback go from 6-2 to 7-9 after the single most embarrassing Thursday night football game? Knowing your quarterback aggravated that same shoulder that’s given him trouble before. Cam’s struggle with the deep ball has been evident since that Thursday night game and even more painful was each week wondering why they were keeping him in the game even with the painfully obvious he needed rest and repair. While Cam is set to back on track for training camp, the waiting to pull a hurt team leader does raise some eyebrows within the fanbase.

3. The Falcons Swept Us & We Lost To The Saints At Home- These two are tied for pit number 3 because they go hand in hand with division rivalries and pride. Losing to your division rival on their turf? Okay. Losing to your division rival on YOUR turf and also twice in one season? NOT OKAY. The Panthers have had a hard time within their division, especially against the Saints last year being swept three times (once in the playoffs). A definite pit that needs to be improved upon is the Panthers ability to START and FINISH fast against an increasing competitive NFC South division.

But there’s good news! You believe me don’t you? For every pit there’s a peak and without a moments delay here are the top 3 peaks of the 2018 season.

Top 3 Peaks of 2018:

1. Christian McCaffrey definitely has a bright future with us-His Dad (Ed McCaffrey) was a NY Giant and later a Denver Bronco, but Christian is a next level talent the Panthers can capitalize on to ensure their own future amongst the competitive NFC South as well as the NFL at large. Christian, or CMC as we affectionately call him, can run, leap over defenders and even throw a touchdown if we need him too. He’s a superb athlete and a class act that I look forward to watching grow in 2019.

2. We’ve Got Solid Back-Up Quarterback Options In Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen (although we hope to not need them again as long as Cam stays healthy)- When it rains it pours, and while no team wants to see their starting Quarterback sidelined for the remainder of a season, it was nice to know we’ve got some solid backups waiting in the wings should the top dog go down. While each stint was short lived the backups Allen and Heinicke showed flashes of greatness and it was obvious that Cam had a hand in molding and mentoring the young men. Anyone who questions Cam’s leadership should feast their eyes on him being the greatest supporter and fan by cheering on both guys from the sidelines. As the old saying goes, ‘you win some, you lose some’ Panther nation can definitely agree that saying simply do to the fact that while we lost when Cam went out we did win in securing some young talented backups who are ready to step up to the plate when need be. Ahhhhh, got to love silver linings!

3. We Beat The Saints At Home-To the casual football fan this may be no big deal. After all half their starters didn’t even start. However, it IS ALWAYS a big deal to beat The Saints at home in the Super-dome. Especially after being violently swept three times by our Brees lead archenemies it’s always good to show the bayou bullies where they can stick that broom if theirs (HINT: It’s where the sun doesn’t shine). Regardless of whether it’s a big deal to you or not, beating the Saints at home was definitely a high point to end the 2018 on.

What would you rate about your teams Peaks and Pits? Let me know in the comments below and Keep Pounding!

Love you. Mean it.



8 Features You Shouldn’t Ignore That Have Been Added Since the Pokémon Go Launch

I haven’t gone to confession in a number of years but but I have a confession. I haven’t played Pokemon Go in 2 and half years. See, after the initial hype died down I felt no longer challenged and at times at a disadvantage because of NOT living in a city environment. I deleted the game and went on with life until a number of my close friends convinced me to give it a go and I must say I’m glad I did. Since the time that I’ve played, there were a lot of exciting features that have helped transform it into a more well-rounded game than I initially realized.

From PVP (player vs player) to trading and even in-game effects caused by the weather in the real world around you, Niantic has turned Pokemon Go into everything envisioned in the original announcement trailer, and in some ways even exceeded it.

As a 90s kid who grew up with Pokémon it is my pleasure to discuss a few of the most exciting features to come to Pokemon Go in the last two and a half years since I played.

1) Friends, Gifts, and Trading

Since my last foray into the popular AR game , Pokemon Go added its first true social media like feature: friends! Every player has their own friend code that you can share with other players. While I only have 9 (add me if you’d like!) I’m told you can add up to 200 friends to your friend list.

Once you’ve exchanged codes and accepted a request, you’ll be able to see your friend’s most recently caught Pokemon, and their stats regarding how many battles they’ve won, how far they’ve walked in the game, and how many Pokemon they’ve caught in total.

Once you’ve added a friend, you’ll be able to achieve one of four Friendship Levels: Good Friend, Great Friend, Ultra Friend, and Best Friend. Raising your friendship level will offer various rewards in the game, including lower Stardust costs for trades, extra damage during gym battles alongside a friend, and additional Premiere Balls during raids alongside a friend (nothing is more enriching then taking part in a raid with your best friends).

You can increase your friendship level with a particular friend by sending gifts (see below), trading, and participating in gym battles or raid battles together. Your friendship level can only increase once per day per friend, and this is how long I’ve been told by my friend Pete it takes to achieve each level:

• Good friend: 1 day

• Great friend: 7 days

• Ultra friend: 30 days

• Best friend: 90 days

You can only send ONE GIFT per day but I found if you send a gift at 11:59 PM you can also send another to the same friend at 12:00 AM (God, I love loopholes!).

2) Gift Giving

So you’re probably wondering what I mean by gifts right? Well, PokeStops will now occasionally drop Gifts, which you can send to friends on your list. Gifts will include a “postcard” from the PokeStop where you picked up the gift, as well as a various items such as: stardust, pokeballs, eggs, revive, and potions. Gifts usually also contain a special egg containing some rare Pokemon, depending where in the country or world you’re receiving them from you may get a real gem.

Gifts can also contain bonus Stardust, and don’t worry if you have not enough room in your bag but too many gifts you can delete unsent ones from your inventory (I haven’t, I sent those suckers). Did I mention you’ll also receive 200 XP for each gift you send a friend!?!

3) Trading Pokémon

Along with friends, Pokemon Go also added one of its most-requested features since launch: trading! Only catch is you can only trade with players on your friends list, and you have to be within 200 meters of each other to trade.

Players receive candy bonuses depending on the original catch location of the Pokemon being traded. If the Pokemon were caught far apart, you’ll receive extra candy for the Pokemon you’re trading.

Finally, the HP and CP of Pokemon traded to friends will be reset, resulting in random new stats for the Pokemon you receive. The range of possible HP and CP outcomes can be extremely wide or extremely narrow depending on your friendship levels, with Best Friends much more likely to receive stronger Pokemon.

4) PVP Trainer Battles

If you’ve been away for a super long time, like me, it’s not just trading you’re missing out on! Pokemon Go added its other most requested feature: PVP (Player vs. Player) Trainer Battles.

Starting a trainer battle is pretty easy you just scan a Battle Code. In the ‘Nearby’ menu in the lower right corner of the screen (which normally shows Pokemon and Raids in your area), a new Battle tab allows you to view a Battle Code, which is essentially a QR code featuring your trainer’s avatar.

A player standing close to you can scan your code (or you can scan theirs) in order to initiate a battle. This means you’ll need to be standing directly next to anyone you’re hoping to battle, with one major exception: you’ll be able to battle against your Ultra or Best Friends remotely over the internet.

Pokemon Go Trainer Battles are 1 v. 1, and each player uses a team of three Pokemon. A set of Pokemon will be recommended to you (based on CP and HP levels) but you don’t have to pick what they recommend. Pokémon can be replaced manually, or you can select from one of your pre-made Battle Parties prepared ahead of time.

5) You Can Now Select Your Pokemon and League

Before you can choose your team of Pokemon, you’ll need to decide which League you want to battle in. Trainer Battles will let you decide between three Leagues:

• Great League: Where each Pokemon must be 1,500 CP or under

• Ultra League: Where each Pokemon must be 2,500 CP or under

• Master League: Where each Pokemon have no CP limits

Once the battle begins, it’ll be familiar to anyone who’s tried Raid or Gym battles in the past. You’ll tap to use your Pokemon’s Fast Move, which will build up energy and eventually allow you to use a more powerful Charge Move. In battle, you’ll be able to choose which Charge Move you want to use once you’ve built up enough energy, then you’ll have an additional few seconds to charge it up even more.

During that window, the opposing player will have the option to use a Protect Shield. Each player only gets two of these to use for the entire battle, so you’ll need to be careful in deciding which Pokemon and which attacks to use them against.

At the end of a battle, both players will receive prizes regardless of whether they win or lose, which include the possibility of Stardust or Sinnoh Stones, which allow you to evolve some Generation 4 Pokemon. You can earn these rewards three times per day by battling other players. Battling against a player is also a new option for your once-per-day friendship increase.

Players can also train by fighting against AI-controlled versions of the three Team Leaders (Blanche, Candela, and Spark), which are also accessible via the Battle tab in the Nearby menu. Once per day, players can also earn rewards from this method of training (with the same potential prizes as battles against real players).

6) Dynamic Weather and Pokemon Spawns

Looking at the main screen when you boot up Pokemon Go, the logo in the top right represents the current weather. Weather in Pokemon Go is dynamic and corresponds with the actual real-world weather around you, and it changes every hour.

Eight weather states are currently available in Pokemon Go: rain, wind, snow, fog, sun (daytime), clear (nighttime), cloudy, and partly cloudy.

The in-game weather will affect the Pokemon spawns around you, with certain types more likely to appear in certain conditions and the attack power of certain moves boosted during battles.

Weather has been one of the most significant changes to Go since it launched, completely changing what appears around you and potentially making your neighborhood have different Pokemon day to day. If you could only find Pidgey, Rattata, and Zubat in your house back at launch, you might be surprised by how diverse the Pokemon population has become.

7) Field Research and Special Research

Back on the main screen, you’ll see the pair of binoculars in the bottom right which are how you access Research.

There are two types of research. First, “field” research is something you can complete multiple times per day. These are basic tasks (hatch an egg, catch 10 Pokemon, etc.) that you’ll generally complete during typical play anyway. You can obtain new tasks by spinning any PokeStop, and you can hold up to three at a time (or trash the ones you don’t want). The tasks will either give you items or an encounter with a Pokemon as a reward, with better rewards for harder tasks.

Once per day, the first research task you complete will give you a daily stamp. For every seven stamps you get, you’ll have the chance to open a Research Breakthrough Box, which awards you with an encounter with a rare or legendary Pokemon. Each month gets a different Pokemon, so if you get your seventh stamp on October 31, you’ll get October’s Pokemon if you open the box immediately, or November’s if you wait until the next day.

The second type of research is “special” research, which is the closest thing Pokemon Go has to a story mode. Special research gives you a mission and a series of multiple tasks to complete for a unique reward. Special Research tasks so far have included A Mythical Discovery, which entails completing various sets of tasks in order to encounter Mew, as well as A Ripple in Time to obtain the Mythical Pokemon Celebi, and the Halloween-themed A Spooky Message, which offered the Ghost-type Pokemon Spiritomb.

These missions are peppered with appearances from Professor Willow, who will appear in cut scenes at the end of each step to share some new information and assure you you’re on the right path.

You can hold multiple special research tasks at once, and they’ll never expire, meaning you can start the game right now and begin your quest for Mew or Celebi if you haven’t already, and you’ll still be able to start it even once new special research appears. Each player can only obtain a single Mew and Celebi, and you won’t be able to transfer or trade them, so don’t worry about accidentally losing yours!

8) You Can Participate In Raid Battles and Level Up Quicker Using Lucky Eggs

As you walk through the world, you may see messages pop up periodically that a battle is about to begin nearby, or you may see timers on top of gyms. Both of these are part of the raid battle system that Pokemon Go added since their launch.

If you find a raid before it’s begun, you’ll see an egg on top of a gym with a time countdown to when that egg will eventually hatch into a raid boss. There are five tiers of raids, and the color of the egg corresponds to the difficulty of the Pokemon inside.

Tier one and two raids are in pink eggs, which are the easiest type of raid. You can totally win these alone or with one other person. These are also the levels I recommend you start off with (unlike me who tried taking on a four tier boss alone and it was ugly).

Tier three and four raids are in yellow eggs, which have a wide range of difficulty. In almost every case, a level three raid can be beaten solo by a high level player, but may require the help of a few others depending on your battle party. Tier four raids can be more difficult, but can generally be beaten by five or six players at most.

I’ve read about (but have not see first hand) the Dark eggs which represent legendary raids, from what I gather these are the most difficult to complete. Some legendary Pokemon are easier to battle than others, with high level players able to take down some with just two players, or others requiring closer to a dozen players to defeat. In general, 10 players is a good rule of thumb, especially across a range of different experience levels, and if you have a full raid lobby of 20 players you should have no trouble at all.

The actual process of battling a raid boss will be much, much easier if you take the time to understand attack types. For example, knowing that a water-type Pokemon does super effective damage to a fire-type since fire is weak to water may sound simple, but there are extra factors that can help you do even more damage. STAB (or Same Type Attack Bonus) means that a Pokemon will do extra damage if they’re using moves that match their own type, and understanding movesets and damage output is important if you want to defeat a raid boss with a small group.

After you beat a raid boss, you’ll get a few raid items, then have a chance at a bonus challenge, which allows you to try to capture the Pokemon you just fought. Depending on how much damage you did and which team currently controls the gym where you battled, you’ll receive a set number of Premiere Balls at the end of the raid, and these are the only balls you’ll be able to use to catch the Pokemon. If you run out of balls, the Pokemon will flee, or if you catch it with extra balls leftover, you won’t get to keep your extras.

If you want to try out a raid, you get ONE free raid pass a day by visiting any gym. Otherwise it’s invitation only. If you’re trying to level up, raids are also one of the fastest way to gain XP in the game, so if you have any Lucky Eggs (which double all of the XP you earn for 30 minutes) in your inventory, I highly recommend you use them!

Overall from what I have gathered Pokémon Go has made drastic improvements which have made playing so much more easier and fun. If you, like me, have been away from the game for a while then I highly recommend re-downloading it and giving it another try.

Love you. Mean it.