I've grow increasingly unhappy about winter in the last decade or so. The cold seems more inescapable than ever. The lack of sunlight starts to depress me by January or February (though it's been better with my biking in recent years).
When Cobweb was particularly sick, there were at least two winters when I thought she wasn't going to make it to spring. But she did each time.
I learned that my Grandpa P., my mom's dad, died last night. He was a nice man, but not one that I ever knew particularly well. That's because my family left Missouri behind when I was just a few years old, moved all the way from the Midwest to California when I was 6 or so. I visited the grandparents some summers when I was young, but my Grandpa was still working then, so I spent almost all of my time with my Grandma. I mostly remember my Grandpa watching the TV, reading the newspaper, and smoking cigars.
He was an engineer who worked on the railroad. I know he took me out to see his rail yard once, when I was young, but I sadly don't remember that trip at all. He was in his 80s when he passed, so he'd been retired for a good long time if that's any consolation.
My American Indian blood (scant as it is) came from him. Of all my muttled heritage, it's the one little bit that makes me believe in something bigger than me. Mind you, it's probably also where I got my lactose intolerance and my baldness, so there you go.
So, Grandpa. Sigh.
Any other day I would have just written about Thanksgiving. It was generally a good holiday. Restful. And that's ironic, because it was full of busyness, including: (1) visit with Lisa & Jason; (2) visit with Eric R.; (3) hours of Downton Abbey; (4) Thanksgiving dinner; (5) A Little Princess at the Berkeley Playhouse; and (6) A Trip to Lafayette for Baja Fresh. Still, I was really getting into the hang of the whole vacation thing by Sunday — feeling like I was ready to go a few extra rounds.
The Lafayette trip was undertaken by me by bicycle. I've been feeling like I've been letting that go a bit in recent months, so I did the 20 mile ride over the hills and down through Contra Costa. Some of the steepest hills gave me problems, but it was overall easier than I expected. So I'm not quite out of shape yet.
I did surprisingly little writing over the weekend. A little bit of work on Designers & Dragons, the first draft of some histories for D&D Classics, but that was it. Oh, actually, I wrote a complete well-researched and long history for Wizards of the Coast too. Still, it was an amount of work that I could have gotten done in two days instead of four.
Which is probably why I felt relaxed at the end of it.
Fortunately, I've gotten enough lead on all my projects for this not to be a big deal. I'm done with WotC projects through the end of the year, and have just five more D&D Classics histories (including the two I first drafted). It's going to be mostly Designers & Dragons from here on out — which is good because I'm entering the home stretch.
Amusingly, I started writing a new book last night. It's a project for 2014, but I needed to get the first 1500 words out, so I did. It should be awaiting me after I'm done with Designers & Dragons (and have taken a few weeks break). It's an exciting project that I had previously pitched to a single publisher, then put aside when I didn't get a thumbs up. Now I'm thinking I could get a literary publisher to pick it up, and if not, I could always Kickstart it.
I guess life goes on ...
Kimberly and I saw A Little Princess put on at the Berkeley Playhouse this afternoon. This is a recent musical adaptation (2005 or so) of a book from a hundred years earlier.
I had fun. It was joyful and energetic, as the plays always are at the Playhouse, and there were some very talented singers there, including the girl who had played Annie and Charlie (of the Chocolate Factory) in previous productions. (She played Becky here.) Sadly I thought the best two singers were folks with relatively small parts of just one main song each; it turned out that one of them was Wilson Jermaine Heredia, a Tony-award winning actor from Rent (where he played Angel). We'd previously seen him in the movie. He totally rocks for taking part in a community theatre.
Unfortunately the book for the musical wasn't nearly as good. Basically the first act consists of star Sara Crewe leaving Africa and going to a girl's school in Britain, where she spends about 2 minutes being bullied by the girls there, then she immediately turns them all into her friends. What follows is over an hour of girls bonding at school. The second act was better, but then the authors inexplicably decided to end it with a Deus Ex Queen Victoria, where the Queen drops down from the heavens to solve all the problems. Seriously. One can see why someone thought it was clever to mirror the ongoing theme that all girls can be little princesses with a meeting with the actual Queen, but ... it's really hard to make deus ex machinas work, and this one didn't quite make it there. Overall, it felt like too many events were dumped into this play and thus none of them got much attention. Oh, and the whole thing dragged. At 2.75 hours including intermission, it could have been trimmed, and the first act was the place to do it.
Beyond that, everything was laid out to be a lot too reminiscent of Annie (girls who are down-trodden in an all girls' institution, while a jealous caretaker is mean to them) and some of the songs were way too mundane. ("A Broken Old Doll" felt like it could have come from any musical ever.) And as K. said, we kept hearing again and again (in song) how Sara and her father missed each other.
That's all a pity because there was a lot of clever storytelling. Act I is largely split between Sara's bonding experiences in the girl's school and her father's adventures searching for Timbuktu. Sometimes the scenes were entirely overlaid with each, usually with one of the scenes being non-vocal. Some of the non-vocal scenes were even carried out in silhouette. It was pretty cool storytelling. And I did like some of the song's: Pasco's "Captain Crewe" (which he rocked), Sara's "Soldier On" (which she rocked), and the dreamy "Timbuktu" (complete with Gilbert & Sullivan references).
So, 2012's last musical was mixed, but as I said I mostly enjoyed myself anyway (except when the play was really dragging). Given the last Shotgun play was mixed too, I'm hoping the year's inal performance will be better! (That's a weird-sounding thing at the Shotgun, and unfortunately "weird-sounding" and "thing" doesn't fill me with hope.)
And so the Holiday season has begun.
My brother Jason and sister-in-law Lisa stopped by to visit us Wednesday night. K. and I had opted out of the larger familial Thanksgiving because she wasn't up to it, but my sibs were kind enough to see us a bit on their way down to San Marteen. We met their very excited, very large boxer-pit-bull dog and talked for a bit (with the sibs, not the dog). Cupcakes were dropped off. It was nice seeing them.
My actual Thanksgiving on Thursday kicked off with a bit of busy-ness. First thing, I had to run up to Andronico's to get our deserts and sides. Sadly, they make you jump through hoops now, such as getting a slip for your food, paying for your food, and then having to come back to pick up your food. Their delivery was also lacking, as it included green beans in a zip lock bag. Not very class-ay. (But, the food was tasty as ever.)
After getting home, I then ran out to have a light lunch with my friend Eric R., who was visiting from New Zealand and stopped by on his way back to the airport (after visiting his parents for the last several days). We went to the only restaurant I could find open in Downtown Berkeley (The Original) and talked a bit. It was nice to see Eric, but it's been a long while since he's gone, and time has moved on.
After I arrived back home, I read for a while, then K. and I cooked our food (including our ham) up for a supper at about 4pm. While things were cooking and while we were eating we watch Downton Abbey, because K. and I have developed the habit of marathoning a TV show on Thanksgiving when we're home. The show was good (it was the back half of season 3) and the food was delicious ... particularly the ham. There are now huge piles of leftovers.
The rest of the day was restful. I worked on the two novels I'm reading (Shadows Edge, The Thirteenth Tale), plus a large graphic novel that I'd set aside for Thanksgiving (X-Men vs Apocalypse I). I usually have a "no work" policy on Thanksgiving, but I've got too much up in the air now, so toward the evening I started doing some editing and writing too -- knocking a couple of things off my Designers & Dragons TODO list and also making some notable progress on my next article for Wizards of the Coast.
So, now the holiday has come and gone, but K. and I still have a few fun days of other stuff planned and we have food (ham in particular) that will carry us into the next year ...
We had a pretty horrible windstorm last night. Sustained winds up to 40mph and at least one recorded gust of 75mph, according to the news reports today. It's certainly not unprecedented in Berkeley, but we don't tend to see wind that bad more than once a year.
The funniest result was the effect on our gaming. Thursday is my usual board-game/test/review tonight, and last night we were playing Mayfair's new Global Mogul -- a pretty complex and intricate game that I liked far more than I expected based on the components. We were on the second turn or so of the six-turn game ... and the power went out. We waited around for a few minutes, but it stayed out (which is pretty rare for our house).
So the iPhones and other mobiles came out, with their new-fangled flashlight apps (which keep the camera flash on). For the next 2 hours or so (8-10?), we played the game entirely by mobile light -- which was pretty challenging given the large number of cards with smallish print. I offered to hunt up some candles, but no one was interested. The power finally came back on during turn 5 or so. It was a totally wacky gaming experience (and one that probably added at least 30 minutes to the gameplay!).
The cats both have been freaking out about the wind. It started in the late afternoon. yesterday. They were at their worst while we were gaming, because there was weird wind outside, and we were sitting around in the dark, which is pretty unusual too. So there was much chasing and hissing, and I finally had to go rescue Callisto. I sat her down in a chair in the Dining Room (where we were gaming) and she stayed there until the lights came back on. We still have more wind than usual today (though nothing like last night) and poor Lucy remains freaked out ... which means continued hissing at poor Callisto.
So it goes!
Life has been very busy lately. About a month and a half ago I committed to finishing the fourth and final (for now) Designers & Dragons book by the end of the year. Since then, most of my "non-work" time has been spent writing, editing, and writing again. Tons of work for Designers & Dragons: The '00s, a constant parade of D&D histories for DnDClassics.com, and lately a few articles for Wizards of the Coast too.
So when the weather report said that we were going to get rain on Monday or Tuesday, I stopped and said to myself, "If I don't go ride that beautiful (dirt-paved) Wildcat Creek Canyon Trail again soon, I won't get to until spring, because it'll be too muddy."
Saturday was our first RPG session in over a month, due to various things getting in the way (Hawaii for three members of our group; the Endgame party; Kimberly's art at De Young). Lately I'd then take it easy on Sunday (to catch up on writing), but instead I did that bike ride.
It was about 20 miles: down past the end of the Ohlone Greenway, up into Wildcat Canyon, and then through into Tilden. I quite enjoyed it, as I expected I would. My strength wasn't as good on some of the hills after a month and a half of lighter riding, but my stamina was quite strong (in that I wasn't falling down exhausted by the time I got to Tilden, as I have been in the past).
Life being as busy as it has been lately, I of course brought my laptop with me, and once in Tilden I found myself a picnic table and began working. I got in about two hours of writing D&D histories and entering corrections into Designers & Dragons ... and then it got to be too cold. I was wearing my jacket and my fingerless gloves but found myself shivering as I was writing my second history of the day ... so after I finished up a few final shivering paragraphs I packed up and headed back up over the hill to get home.
Sadly, winter has come.
But there wasn't rain on Monday and Tuesday.
Last night Kimberly and I decided to get some sandwiches and eat them in the local dog park for dinner. Even though we made it up there by 5.30, it was already pretty dark ... but that didn't stop people from taking their dogs out. There were lots of people, mostly bunched together in the dim dusk.
Dogs bounced around in the dark. Some of the dogs had lights on which bounced and spun in weird shapes. Other of the dogs were aggressive about our sandwiches, something which I attributed to their near-invisibility in the dimness. It was a surprisingly weird and fun experience.
Today K. seems to have come down with a cold, sadly. I've been a bit muzzy and tired too. Hopefully I'm fighting it off, rather than coming down with it. Tomorrow will tell ...
Kimberly and I saw "Strangers, Babies" at Shotgun Players tonight. We never did figure out what was up with that punctuation. The only use of the phrase in the play seemed to be "Strangers' Babies" — so maybe the apostrophe just fell down.
Anyway, it was kind of an unpleasant play. Five scenes of a woman interacting with five different men — many of them in unpleasant and off-kilter ways. I was not enjoying it enough by the end of the second scene (which was the worst of them) that I thought about leaving.
Anyway, I stayed. The point of the play was to gradually unravel some secrets of this woman's past through very oblique (but mostly believable) dialogues. That part was very well done, and I gained some more respect for the writing after the play was over, when I realized that multiple people hadn't got it.
So, I didn't like it at the start, but I did like it at the end; that's the right arc.
Overall, it was interesting for its storytelling and its characters, but it was very much a story that was built around structure rather than the converse. Can't say I'd necessarily recommend it, though I don't regret buying the tickets & seeing it.
Kimberly & I went to the De Young museum on Saturday. It was to see an "Art Slam", which was a slideshow of various art works -- including one great piece that she'd done.
Unfortunately, the experience was somewhat subpar. Her slide was literally first, showing before they had the window screen all the way down and before most of the audience even realized that the presentation was starting. They showed it for all of 5-10 seconds. Worse, three of her friends who'd come to see it all missed it because they were running later.
Worser, there were some people right behind us in the auditorium who constantly cheered and gushed and talked about every slide in a way that made K. (and, really, everyone else) anxious. (They were De Restless.) We had to move and then we had to leave. Kimberly's friend Jay gave us a ride home.
On the bright side, we had a nice trip out to the De Young and we had an enjoyable and decadent lunch of Andronico's sandwiches and deserts in the De Young garden before the show. And Kimberly did have a piece of art ever-so-briefly showing at De Young! It was fun to see!
Got home a lot earlier than expected, so I spent the afternoon and evening writing and editing.
Then today I biked up to Temescal and wrote and edited more. By the by, that turned out to be at the limit of my endurance as I'm still sniffling a bit from my recent (light) cold. And speaking of cold, the park was. After two hours, I headed home. It was 2.30, and I was chilled, and I decided the park was only getting colder from there. Sadly, Winter has come.
And tonight I wrote and edited more.
Total damage was about 8,000 words over Saturday and Sunday: three more D&D Classics articles (2,500 words total) and my eighth new history for Designers & Dragons: The '00s (5,500 words).
Gaming Anniversary. Last Saturday was Endgame's Anniversary party. I stopped by, though only for a couple of hours, as my free time continues to be very short. I got to see some friends and play a couple of games, so it was all good. Endgame, meanwhile announced that they're opening a little cafe immediately adjacent to the store. It's cool to hear that they're doing well enough to be considering expansion.
After my couple of hours at the party, I headed up to Lake Temescal to do some writing. I was delighted to discover that it was an extremely nice day. I'm officially calling it the last day of Summer, and I'd previously thought they were all gone. Anywho, I did the writing I had planned, and it was glorious outside, and I came home for dinner. A pretty typical Saturday of late.
Sick. Sadly, I also picked up my first cold of the year at the party, at lunch, at the lake, or somewhere in that vicinity, because I was coughing by Monday night. I think Tuesday was the worst of it: I couldn't put in a full day of work. I'm still sniffly now, but not as bad. And my energy is better. I'm hoping to be well enough on Saturday not to get tuckered out, as Kimberly and I have plans in San Francisco.
(For the moment though, it kept me from gaming the rest of this week; good thing I had that bonus Saturday gaming to carry me over.)
Halloween. And today is Halloween. Kimberly and I had planned to go get pie or something somewhere, to celebrate the season appropriately, but she unfortunately ended up with her stomach too upset to eat anything. So I went out and got some deserts at Berkeley Bowl, and I ate mine tonight (Double Fudge Cake), and she'll probably have hers tomorrow (Tangy Lemon Bar).
I was quite surprised when I rode to Berkeley Bowl to find the streets between here and there just jammed with trick or treaters. There were also several houses totally done out in Halloween regalia. I usually think of Berkeley as being pretty Halloween free. We gave up getting treats a couple of years ago because we tended to get 0-2 trick-or-treating groups and they were all mobs of overprivileged and overaged kids. The folks trick-or-treating south of us were more clearly parents out with their kids. It was very cool. As were some of the houses, particularly one that had smoke coming off its roof, and a light to make it look green! Someone else had a big open fire in front of their house.
So, that was Halloween. I also read the first 100 pages or so of Grendel Omnibus I. I figured it'd be appropriate for the holiday too, with its dark, noir feel -- but it's now being put away lest I overdose on stories of Hunter Rose.
New Computer. I bought myself a new computer on Friday. The MacBook Air with the larger 13" screen. I can't believe how cheap notebook computers have gotten! I wanted the new notebook because I've increasingly been doing my writing out and away from the house, and the older laptop computer I had just didn't do the trick. It was too heavy (especially while biking up to Tilden) and it didn't have enough battery power any more (despite getting a new battery just last year); I'd regularly crank its screen down to the point where I could barely see, and it'd still top out at 3 hours or so. My new computer went with me to Lake Temescal yesterday (and later up into Shepherd Canyon), and at <3 pounds, it was plenty light, and the power is great. So, thumbs up! And it cost less than I've made for writing DnDClassics.com this year, so it seems like a fair enough investment.
7,500 Miles. Yesterday, about the time that I got to Lake Temescal, I hit 7,500 miles on my bike. That's since I got my bike's first computer, just before Thanksgiving 2008. So, about 1,500 miles a year on average, which is a nice bit of activity — though this year I think I'm actually trending toward 2,000 miles, since 40 miles seems to be a fair weekly average (though that's about to drop with the dark-and-rainy season).
Creativity. I've been thinking about a change of life — about making creativity (and writing) a larger part of my life. I've talked with a few people about this, and I'm determined to make it the case next year. I don't want to get into the specifics until I iron them out, but I want to be doing work that's more frequently creative, that's more self-directed, that's more forward thinking, and that does a better job of preparing for the future. I hope to figure out the precise way I'm going to do this in the short weeks ahead, but for now I'm quite enthusiastic about it.
iOS7 Wednesday. Last Wednesday I spent the day in San Francisco, attending Apple's iOS7 Tech Talks. The basic idea was to bring developers up to date with new stuff in iOS7, but there was actually less iOS7 stuff than I would have liked. Still, it gave me some ideas for things that should be done to bring up games up to iOS7 standards (most importantly: simplify icons; update for 64-bit). Anyway, it was a day-long thing from 8-ish to 6-ish. First conference of that sort I've gone to in a long time. I sat around most of the time taking notes in a paper notepad. How low tech!
Sunday Streets. Sunday was the second (annual, I guess) Open Streets in Berkeley, which means that Shattuck got shut down for cars from just north of our house all the way up to Rose (almost 2 miles). Kimberly and I checked it out again this year, biking instead of walking this time. Sadly, it was kind of disappointing. There was less interactive stuff (like last year's climbing wall), fewer small sellers, and there was no special food other than some barbecuing butcher that had four things on their menu. Instead it was mostly local businesses putting a table on the street. It was also GROSSLY crowded by the time we came back. Still, we got out of the house and ended up having lunch at Saul's -- an old favorite that we don't get to much. I'm glad we experienced the better 1st year, as I doubt I'll want to bother next year.
The Book, She is Done(ish). I haven't talked about it much here, but in my Skotos work time, I've been writing a book on co-op board game design for the last several months, along with Chris A. As of Tuesday, it's done in a very solid third draft. 140k words. We're going to send it around for comments, but it's out of my hair for the moment. I'm very pleased with the result, though the next question will be if the audience is wide enough to get a traditional publisher. Hope so! We'll see ...
Too Much Busyness. I had a three-day weekend with no gaming obligations, which is usually great, but sadly it was spoiled by work. First I took a few passes on some PR for Skotos. Then I spent many hours plodding through an index for Designers & The Dragons: The '70s to make sure that all of the intricacies that an indexer couldn't have known about were in there. Sigh. I did get out: I spent a few hours working up by Lake Temescal on Saturday, then a few hours working in the Tilden Botanical Garden on Monday. However, come Monday night I found that I was in an increasingly foul mood, which is the exact opposite of what I want after a long weekend. I sent myself to my room for a few hours and felt better after a bit of quite reading, but still ... not what I usually hope to get out of a long weekend. Alas.
Fortunately, I'm heading into a short week with no particular obligations other than finishing that index polish in the next several nights (plus daytime work at Skotos, of course, which is going to focus on RPGnet if I can shake free the time). This coming weekend is theoretically entirely obligation free too, so hopefully it'll be better.