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Shannon A.
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Saw Heart Shaped Nebula at Shotgun Players today. It was a big relief after their craptastic lead-off for the season, Antigonick. More than that, Heart Shaped Nebula was actually worth seeing.

It was fundamentally a magic realism story about a man who'd lost his true love and how he might be reunited with her. At times I found that overarching story a little heavy-handed. Admitted, there was some nice ambiguity (such as whether the third character was an angel, a thief, or both), but there was also a lot of relatively clichéd romance.

Where the play really excelled was in its characters. They were well-drawn and interesting, and their dialogue was terrific: it blended love and science in a positively Andrea-Barrettesque, and though it went overboard at times, there were also a few sublime moments too. ("You're the center of my universe." "The center of the universe is an enormous black hole!") Two of the three actors (the guy and the angel-thief) were also superb, while the last was good enough.

Overall, it was really nice to get the bad taste of Antigonick out of our mouths, so that we don't keep dreading the return to Shotgun. And, I'd be interested to see what else playwright Orta has done.
8th-Jun-2015 11:55 pm - More Wedding Thoughts
I really enjoyed the wedding yesterday. Or maybe, I really enjoyed the reception.

Generally, it was great to see Woo so happy. He was just beaming throughout the day.

But I also enjoyed hanging out with the gamers alongside Kimberly, in a social venue that wasn't just about gaming. At this point, I've known these folks for most of my life. They've been an important part of it for two-and-a-half decades. It was great seeing them with their kids and families, within the context of a larger social web.

I loved seeing Eric with Justin, who is such a great kid.

I loved seeing Sweet bustling around helping to take care of things, while also being a great dad for his own kids.

I really appreciated getting a great compliment from Rowe, who told me that he's had signed copies of Designers & Dragons sitting on his table for months, waiting to be read but looking daunting. It made me happy to think that some of those books I signed at Endgame made their way to New Zealand and also to know that they're a constant presence there in his life on the other side of the world (even if they're not read!). And it was great seeing Barb again.

I enjoyed seeing Woo and Chris and Corina who have been mostly absent from my roleplaying in recent years, and meeting Sophia for the second time. I was really stunningly happy to hear that Woo and Sophia are thinking about joining us for the roleplaying Saturdays up here in the East Bay (in a couple of months, when things quiet down for them).

And it was good seeing Pick and his delightfully cute daughter Katie and the shy Vincent and Kevin and everyone else. I gave everyone I could find a hug on my way out. Kevin said it was an obvious sign that I'd been drinking. And, I'd had one mysterious fruity drink at the start of the reception some hours before, but mostly I was drunk on the camaraderie.
8th-Jun-2015 12:29 am - Wed-DING!
Today was Woo's wedding, and following it, I am absolutely exhausted.

Donald and Mary were kind enough to pick us up at 12.30, and Kimberly and I walked back in from BART at 11.30. Whew! That was a long day!

We'd planned to meet Mary and Donald down at Fremont BART, but then we discovered that today was one of the days when BART was closing part of their Fremont line due to track reconstruction. (Why they don't do it at night when BART already isn't running, we dunno.) There was a bus bridge, but none of us trusted it not to screw our schedule, so they were kind enough to come all the way up to Berkeley to get us.

Very unfortunate timing, but it turned out fine.

The wedding was in a Presbyterian church in Portola Valley. It turned out to be a gorgeous venue. The a-frame church had a set of big glass windows in the back which overlooked a beautiful wooded area. It was stunning.

The ceremony was quite short and quite nice. Most people will probably say the highlight was the lighting of the candles. Woo and Sophia each lit candles and then used them to light the marriage candle together. Or so the theory went. In actuality they kept trying again and again to light the candle. It wouldn't light, not even when Woo trying to bring up the wick. As they grew increasingly frantic the (wonderful) minister rushed in with an emergency replacement candle.

And that one lit quickly.

The minster, very light on her feet, told them it would be a wonderful story about their wedding day to tell for decades, and that it showed the power of perseverance.

After many large group pictures, including several of everyone who attended, there was then a few hour break before the reception. Kimberly, who is still recovering from sickness, was exhausted, so Mary was kind enough to suggest that we could rest at her office. K. crashed out on a couch and slept, meanwhile Mary, Donald, and I played Citadels and Fluxx and Fluxx.

I think we were all pleased by the activities (rather than alternatives of beer-drinking or dave-and-bustering).

The reception was at another beautiful venue, a country club up in the Palo Alto Hills. Absolutely gorgeous views. The club itself was attractive too and served good food and drinks.

We sat with Donald and Mary and the sister of Woo's long-term roommate & family (and spent awhile explaining what Woo's strange "gaming" was, which was fun). I also got to wander off for a while and talk to my old friend Eric, who's in town for the wedding from New Zealand.

Wedding favors: Lindt chocolates. I heartily approve.

Afterward Donald and Mary dropped us by Union City BART, the same station I used to use when I commuted to Sun in Mountain View. And then it was a hike home from BART. I hadn't quite realized how tired I was until I hit the couch. Whew!

And of course when I got home, RPGnet was broken. It's had a bad run since the power outage 10 days ago or so. Something was wrong with our MySQL slave tonight. I couldn't really see what, so I just set the site to only use the MySQL master until tomorrow.

Not really ready to go back to work after such a tiring weekend, but so it goes ...
7th-Jun-2015 01:06 am - Par-TAY
Woo's bachelor party today. It was hosted and put together by Sweet. We gathered at his house starting around 7pm. Mostly gamers, but a few other Woo friends as well. There was ramen and barbecue to go on it. Drinks were shared around (though I sadly abstained, as I didn't want to upset my stomach before the wedding). Then at 8pm, the "game truck" showed up.

This is apparently a real thing that you can franchise. Patented too, which shows how broken the patent system is. ("A system for putting Wiis and Xboxes on a mobile delivery platform" — not obvious at all). The Game Truck people claimed it could seat 20, but that was clearly younger butts. But about 10 of us were in the truck playing on the 4 big screens at its height. I was also amused by Kevin and Pick playing from outside the truck for a bit, leaning in through the big windows. I bet young 'uns can't do that.

Besides the gaming and the eating, there was some talking too, in chairs out in front of Sweet's house in Pleasant Hill, which is pleasantly balmy at night. I forget that other parts of the nearby Bay Area don't have the nasty chill evenings we get here in Berkeley. At least not in summer.

Anywho, that was the Bachelor's Party. I think it was the third I attended. Rowe's (miniature golf + go carts + pool & drinks) + Jason's (Hooter's + I didn't stick around for the bar hopping) + Woo's (ramen + game truck + drinks).

I actually spent much of the day over the hills in Contra Costa. I did a great bike ride from Lafayette around and over some of the hills into Pleasant Hill. I biked up to about 680 feet, hiked down through the Aclanes Open Ridge Space and then biked along a portion of the Brionnes to Mt. Diablo Regional Trail, which was a really great ride. It went through some hilly areas going down, then through some houses and a park (where I stayed and wrote for a couple of hours) then eventually connected up with the western contra costa canal trail.

I also rode a bit along the western contra costa canal trail, which I've done twice before. I love the canal and I love the suburban areas it goes through. On my first ride through I found it really hilly and tough going as a result. It's still hilly, but not very tough now. Instead there were some delightful areas that I was able to really enjoy when I was a good 20 or 30 feet up from the canal far below.

And then on the way home I took dark trails out from Sweet's house around to Walnut Creek. I'd done it once before and it was a weird and wonderful ride, as was the case again tonight.

(25 miles total today. Almost 4000 calories burned and over 200 active minutes according to my Fitbit.)

And that was the busy day. K. and I also finished Justified earlier in the day with the last two episodes. Fine show! And with an ending that worked well! I'm really sad to see it go, as Harlan County is one of those TV places that's found a little place in my heart, as only the best detailed places can.
1st-Jun-2015 06:25 pm - Animal House
Ever since my dad and Mary moved to Hawaii, Kimberly and I have taken care of my sister's cat, Tai Chi (a/k/a Guest Cat), on a regular basis, whenever she visited them. For a while, when Melody was in college, it was twice a year, and so Tai Chi got very familiar with our house, and the stalking Lucy kit and the hissing Munchkin and Cobweb old ladies.

But, Tai Chi's last visit was two years ago. Graduation and a job kept Melody (and Jared) away from Hawaii for a while after that, then when they visited last year, my folks (who were out for the wedding) housesat and catsat for them. So when Tai Chi returned a bit over a week ago, it had been a while.

Unfortunately, this new visit was very tiring. The main problem was Callisto. She constantly growled and hissed at Tai Chi, which would have been annoying but OK. Unfortunately, she also quickly escalated to trying to attack Tai Chi. We deterred her about a dozen times over the course of the visit. And that was only when we were allowing the cats to all be out in the house under careful monitoring. During the workday, our cats were usually locked up in my office, which they don't mind at all and which let Tai Chi have the run of the house. Then, during the night and during the weekend, Tai Chi was more frequently locked up in the Guest Room while our cats had the run of the house.

We were really surprised by the troubles. Callisto had actually met Tai Chi before. He last visited after we'd had Callisto for about a month. And, she's the friendliest cat in the world with people, and she's the one that's constantly trying to make friends with Lucy. So to have her try to attack Tai Chi was ... shocking.

And, it was a real pity, because Tai Chi was friendlier than he'd ever been. Purring and rubbing up against us and climbing all over us if we laid down in "his" bed in the Guest Room. (A bed that he vomited on twice, being Tai Chi ... which led to multiple washings of the comforter and sheets.) So, he could have had a really happy week if not for Callisto.

Instead, it was a tiring week keeping cats separated them and keeping an ear out while they were out together.

Tai Chi was actually not the only bonus animal at the house over the week.

K. hosted writing group at our house on Thursday as part of her hopeful recovery from coughing and we let her friend C. bring her service dog, Suzen, to the group. I wouldn't want most dogs in our house, but Suzen is somewhat trained and very friendly, so I didn't have any concerns. I encouraged Lucy to stay up in my office, because I didn't want my little scaredy-cat to have a heart attack, and Tai Chi stayed locked up. But Callisto hung out downstairs and didn't seemed worried at all, though she skirted very carefully around Suzen while moving about when I was (briefly) downstairs.

(While told me that the Callisto/Tai Chi problems were entirely territorial beef, not fear.)

Then when Melody and Jared came to pick up Tai Chi on Sunday they brought their dog, Koloa. She's a fast-growing pup of a year or so. She didn't actually come into the house, but the five of us went out to the soon-to-be-dearly-departed Oscar's, then ate our bounty at the nearby Ohlone Dog Park. We got to see Koloa race around and be crazy and watched Melody discourage her from jumping on people and tables. It was pleasant visit, and a nice bit of time out at a dog park.

Then Melody, Jared, Koloa, and Tai Chi went home.

Callisto was almost immediately relieved. She was lounging about by Sunday evening, clearly relaxed for the first time in 9 days, having finally driven the interloper from the house.

Heard from the sun room earlier today while I was working: "Mmrrrrhhhh!" "Mmrrrrhhhhh!" "Mmrrrrrhhhhhhhhhh!" That'd be the plaintive noise that Callisto makes when she's afraid Lucy is going to get her. And sure enough, Lucy, who is a third of the size of Callisto, was looming over her and threatening/playing. (Lucy has a poor understanding of which is which.)

Yep, that's the cat that spent 9 days trying to kill our visitor, begging the 5 pound cat not to hurt her.

(We did theorize that Callisto was so aggressive because she wasn't just protecting herself and the household, but also her Lucy kit.)
After a disappearing start to our theatre year with a horrible Antigonick and a mediocre Charlie Brown, we were very pleased to have a great success today with Hairspray at the Berkeley Playhouse.

It's a period musical set in 1962 that focuses on an American Bandstand-style TV show and a new star who wants to integrat ite. It's really a great story that reminds us how far our society has gone and how far it still has to go.

Probably the best song is "I Know Where I've Been", a pretty full-throated call for equality that was the show's eleven o'clock number. Our theatre played it with scenes of MLK and segregation on the big "TV" in the background. And, it was stunning, a really rare song in the middle of the play that brought members of the audience to their feet. I was shocked to read that it was controversial in the original Broadway show, apparently because people thought that some of the white cast should sing the eleven o'clock number. Yeah, no irony at all there. Musical composer Shaiman said, "We simply didn't want our show to be yet another show-biz version of a civil rights story where the black characters are just background. And what could be more Tracy Turnblad-like than to give the 'eleven o'clock number' to the black family at the heart of the struggle?"

I was also surprised by how familiar most of the songs were. Some of it was probably due to adaption of rhythms from the '60s, but I've also heard a lot of the songs on my Broadway channel on Pandora. Many of the songs in the second act brought tears to my eyes, but particularly "Without Love" and "You Can't Stop the Beat", because I've heard them a bazillion times, but now I could finally get to see them in context. (And there were so many more that I recognized, like "I Can Hear the Bells" and "Welcome to the '60s".)

So, this was a terrific, funny, and enjoyable show, but also I think an important one, compared to the (enjoyable) fluff like Mary Poppins earlier this season.

Ironically, K. and I watched the Rock of Ages movie last night, so we were going back in time this weekend from the hair bands rock metal of the '80s to the hair spray rock origins of the '60s. It was fun.

Hairspray was clearly the better of the two, but it's hard to compare a vibrant live theatre experience to a musical trapped in a little box; I'd love to see Berkeley Playhouse do Rock of Ages some time ... but next season I'll be content with Avenue Q and keep hoping for Wicked.
13th-May-2015 11:58 pm - The Gray Month
So a month went by in between my birthday post and my note on the end of Kingmaker. It was a gray month in between, in which I felt constantly busy and tired.

It started off with a houseguest in early April. I'd thought it would be a visit of a couple of days, and it ended up being closer to a week. We also found out that our current house layout isn't really setup well for a guests. Our doors creak (though less than they used to) and our guest room is immediately opposite our bed room. We also hadn't expected it to be quite so tiring to have someone constantly in our living space ...

I had some bad nights of sleep, but Kimberly slept really badly. So it wasn't a huge surprise that after a couple of days of that (and being out amongst other people in between), she suddenly came down with an awful hacking cough. I encouraged her to visit a doctor and when she did ... it was another 'bout of bronchitis.

Now of course this sort of thing is worst on Kimberly. She's been weak and mostly confined to the house for a month. But it also has an effect on the whole household. It felt like there was a gray miasma hanging over everything. And, me doing all the chores and making semiweekly runs to the drug store for all matter of drugs certainly has impacted my feeling of busyness.

I think the third thing that contributed to my gray month was my allergy meds. Last year after I came back from Hawaii I came to the conclusion that my long-undiagnosed headaches were the result of allergies. If anything I'm more convinced of that now, because I started having more symptoms mid last year, like a tickly throat and coughing. So, I started taking a Claritin generic, and it sort of helped.

Fast forward to this year's Hawaii trip. Sure enough I once more had a week that was headache and sinus-pressure free in Hawaii, then upon returning to the Bay Area, the problems set in again. So I decided to try some different allergy meds. Next up was Zyrtec and to a large extent it was a miracle drug. My throat problems and headaches disappeared the majority of the time, where I'd been feeling bad for some of every day leading up to it. Unfortunately, it also led to drowsiness.

Now, I've had drug-induced drowsiness before. Both of my blood pressure meds that I've taken have done that ... but they cleared up after a month or two each. So, I kept with the Zyrtec, but the drowsiness didn't seem to be going away. And finally I decided it was contributing to my daily grayness. So I gave it up over the weekend. I've had some sinus pressure and headaches since and I should find another allergy med to try, but for the moment I'm enjoying being drugfree.

Meanwhile, I've been feeling overwhelmed with work. In my Skotos time, my biggest problem was just that I couldn't get a creative handle on the one creative project I had going, but after a talk with Christopher and a first outline, I think it's under control. In my freetime, it feels like I've had too much to do. The ongoing DnDClassics writing has been taking up more of my energy than it should, while I feel like I've been playing catchup with other projects like my Moorcock book, my Mechanics & Meeples articles, and my Wizards of the Coast articles. The last couple of weeks I've been working on a Designers & Dragons index too.

But, after my big Kingmaker finale last weekend, I did a bare minimum of writing over the rest of the weekend and read a whole book instead. Between that, better health about the house, and less drugs, I'm feeling a bit better now. Hence the journal writing.

(I'll also have the Designers & Dragons work mostly out of the way by the end of the weekend; I just got two pages short of the end of the index, with lots more polishing and a bit more work still to go. And, I've got just one more article on my current WotC contract, and then there will be downtime as they catch up with what I've written, which I think currently includes four unpublished histories.)

So that's the month that disappeared, journalwise at least.
10th-May-2015 11:17 pm - Long Live the Kingmaker!
rpg stormbringer
My long-running Kingmaker campaign is finally done. It's been running for 4.5 years and totaled either 71 or 72 sessions, and I brought it to a planned finish on Saturday in a session that I was happy with.

I feel as if a great weight has been lifted from my chest. That was the longest running campaign I've ever GMed, in either time or in sessions (though the shared run of our Roman Ars Magica game went longer, at ~100 sessions in just 2.5 [college] years, but there were several GMs). Especially because the plan is for Mary to run an 8-10 session Achtung Cthulhu! campaign, I feel light and free, because I won't be preparing or running any adventures until next year at my guess.

But, it's always sad to see a campaign come to an end. We'll never see those characters again and even if we have the exact same players in the next campaign, the dynamics won't be quite the same, because players taking different roles (and so interacting with the group in different ways) is literally the name of the game. Or at least the name of the gaming category.

Right now I'll just be happy that we had a campaign that folks enjoyed and that kept us playing together for another half-a-decade.
29th-Mar-2015 09:29 pm - The Birthday Week
Suddenly it's Birthday. / The longest holiday. / When they say 'Season's Greetings' / They mean just what they say. / It's a season, it's a marathon / Mature eternity / And it's not over til it's over / And you end the yearly spree. [Apologies to Loudon Wainwright III]

I sit amidst the debris of birthdays past. Bags and tissue paper sit about the room, while birthday cards look on for the mantle. The week of birthdays is finally over for Kimberly and me.

It was a week of food. Top Dog on campus for me, a pleasant evening of reading aloud in the growing shadows beneath Stephens Hall. For some reason K. laughed every time she talked about how I'd decided on Top Dog for my Birthday dinner. But a Chicken Apple Dog with Chili sounded like what I wanted most in the world that evening.

Then tonight there was an early dinner with the Wiedlins at Chevy's, which everyone seemed very happy with. Well, everyone except Jason and Lisa who sadly did not attend, due to illness.

But, the alternative would have been worse: "Guess what we got you for your birthdays? VIRUSES!!! Happy Birthday!"

And yesterday was the pièce de résistance. K. and I spent the day in San Francisco as a birthday celebration with much eating.

We got fancy-dancy sandwiches from the Canyon Market to eat at Glen Canyon Park. We've enjoyed the park a few times, set down in a ravine which makes the rest of the City invisible, and this time we were pleased to see many of its renovations complete. There's now actually an entrance to the park and even better there are now nice new stairways climbing out of the park up its steep sides if you exit further down the Canyon.

(And, we did, climbing the entire canyon wall to get up to Diamond Heights. It was better than scrambling up scree. After that, we hiked several blocks to get to a bus line which took us to a bus line which took us to ....)

Ghirardelli Square is often the highlight of a day in San Francisco. What can I say? Chocolate fans! We also enjoyed sitting out at Aquatic Park, enjoying the view and the Bay and the breeze (and reading aloud). As I told K., the stone bleachers looking down on the park remind me of the public works of '30s and '40s and a sense of civic community from that time that's now gone. I can imagine neighbors coming together and sitting together on a balmy night in 1949 and feeling like they were part of something greater.

As for us, we had seagulls that I encouraged K. to feed with the other half of a fancy-dancy sandwich that otherwise would have gone to waste (Spoiler: They loved it!) and some rotten kids smoking pot and blowing it up toward us. (Smoke your pot? Cool. Give me a headache with your smoke? Not cool.) They were other folks too, but each group an island unto themselves.

A clear spring day / In a bright and balmy March-time; / We are alone, / Gazing from our stone bench to the cove below / On a salty silent shroud of calm blue water. / I am a rock, / You are an island. [With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel]

Fun Flash Fact: It looks like Aquatic Park was indeed a WPA project in 1936-1939. Thanks, Mr. Roosevelt!

Our Saturday in SF ended with a dinner at a hole-in-the-wall fish and chips place called The Codmother. Very good. Too much food. We gave those leftovers to homeless folks at the end of Market, rather than to seagulls.

Of course our birthday week also included one-quarter of a crappy play on Wednesday, and then a visit with the Wiedlins today which was somewhat more extensive than just eating. There was also talking and presents and cards.

I actually have multiple gift monies that I need to spend. I'd already decided to order some nice collections of comics with money from my dad and Mary (some "Morning Glories" deluxe hardcovers, and something else), so perhaps I'll look at books with money from my mom and Bob.
26th-Mar-2015 10:51 pm - Bits & Bobs
We've had problems with street kids using our outside water lately. I don't have a philosophical problem with sharing our water, but I do have problems with these kids loitering around our property, and really paying attention to our house in general.

So I hear the water running the other night and I mostly ignore it, because the homeless problem has gotten so troublesome and unchecked in Berkeley that a guy up in the hills was murdered a year or two ago for confronting a homeless guy. So, no confrontations.

The next morning I went out and saw lemon rinds strewn all across our steps. And they all been very cleanly cut open with a sharp knife.

I'll leave that picture for a moment: some kid sitting on our steps with a big knife eating lemons.

After more hose use yesterday by some kid, I decide we've become a destination for some reason. Fortunately, it turns out that they make locks to put on outside faucets.

Just a month or so after we received it, our new Samsung washer has already broken down. It was pooling water under it this weekend.

So, K. is heroically jumping through the hoops that Samsung is laying out before her to get our warranty service.

First Samsung required us to get Home Depot out to verify it wasn't an installation problem. We'd already looked at things close enough to know it wasn't an installation problem. Nonetheless, the installation people were out at 7.30am this morning, and apparently very apologetic in explaining that it wasn't an installation problem. They said the washer was defective and the water pump was broken.

Second, Samsung is requiring us to get a repair person out. That's occurring Monday morning.

Presumably then (third) they'll send out a replacement washer. By which time both the washer and drier will have been replaced since we got them in February.

In case it wasn't obvious from my post yesterday, Antigonick was a pile of crap. I find that most experimental theatre is bad, but this was in a whole other dimension. It was like it'd been written by a Freshman drama student. Probably the worst thing I've ever seen at live theatre, and I'm pretty sure it was the only live show I've ever walked out of.

K. was afraid it was rude to walk out of a live performance. On the other hand, I feel that it's almost obligatory. That people walking out is the main walk to protest how terrible a show is. (Shotgun also tends to send a poll out after their shows, and I'm going to be much more blunt that I usually am.)
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