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Shannon A.
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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.)
25th-Mar-2015 10:12 pm - Antigonick, by Anne Carson
Five minutes before the play, a barefoot man mounts the stage. He stands at a corner, stepping and turning. It's like an extended pregnant pause, an infinite ellipsis. He maintains the entire theatre in a state of constant tension and makes the five minutes feel like at least fifteen.

He's probably Antigone's unburied brother.

We never find out.

Two women enter the stage. They suddenly step high on their toes, like they're wearing high heels, and begin to walk toward each other. Very slowly. Another fifteen minutes go by.

The women shout the basic background of the play in unison. It's unintelligible. Kindly, they repeat it individually, but continue to shout. It's still unintelligible. Kindly, they say it again, but this time like normal human beings. We can understand it this time, but it feels like we've heard it all before. I later tell Kimberly that I think the playwright was trying to portray the legendary nature of these events, to make us feel like we've heard it all before. I'm mostly taking the piss out, but I also suspect that maybe I'm right and that's exactly what was going through the overly pretentious mind of the author.

Then women then spend 37 minutes dancing the stage, miming some of the general moves of hopscotch. Continuing to take the piss, I later tell Kimberly that this was symbolic of the two sisters' shared childhood. Again, I think I could be right; I suspect that this is exactly the sort of thing that someone comes up with if they believe that obscuring things makes them interesting.

Music builds to a crescendo then abruptly drops out as some cool dude runs onto the stage, banking off the back wall, which is built like a skate ramp. And other people begin to appear on the stage too, and I wonder if we're finally going to see a play after that elaborate prelude .

Spoiler: We don't.

I'm starting to lose consciousness, as my mind shatters apart before the pure idiocy of what we're seeing. Another hour passes. One part of me is feeling genuinely sorry for the actors who are engaging in this ridiculous farce, while another is trying not to burst out laughing as the dead brother grabs Kreon by the hips and thrusts him forward, to march slowly across the stage. As he does, he lists Kreon's nouns, then Kreon's verbs, then Kreon's nouns again. Another actor insists that "mine" isn't a noun, but Kreon says it is if it's capitalized. Capitalized thus becomes one of Kreon's verbs. He then puts his hand straight up, against his chest, and says, "Ship of State".

There are many other bizarre hand motions and bizarre sways 'to and 'fro. Kimberly and I wonder briefly if we've accidentally attended a modern dance rehearsal and if someone has slipped the entire cast of dancers acid.

The brother mindlessly wanders the stage. The sisters stare from below. Kreon says "Ship of State" again with his hand straight against his chest.

Kimberly and I stand up and leave.

She looks at her watch.

It's only been twenty minutes since the play began.

Ship of State.
I regularly ride my bicycle in Berkeley & Oakland, and I find that my most dangerous biking occurs when I have to pass a stopped bus. Not only does this force me to pull further into traffic, but it also requires me to pass the bus, and unfortunately buses have the bad habit of pulling into traffic without watching for who might be there. Though I'm as careful as I possibly can be, literally every time I pass a stopped bus, it has the potential to be life threatening. Worse, I sometimes have to pass the same bus many times on a longer trip, as they tend to pass bicyclists between stops; this multiplies the danger.

I understand that on Hearst Avenue, one of the options being considered is bus-boarding islands, which will allow bicyclists to pass behind stopped buses. As a regular urban cyclist, I think these are more important than almost anything else you could do on the street. I hope you'll include them in the final plans.
15th-Mar-2015 06:24 pm - One Month Later
I can't believe it's been a month already since we got back from Hawaii. Seems like we were out there just yesterday!

Various stuff seems to be falling into place.

We ordered some new blinds last week, to replace ones in the the redone windows. Sadly, those will take past the end of the month to appear, because we're ordering one out-of-house blind from 3 Day Blinds (but that's what we wanted). We did the same thing ago last time we ordered from them ~2010, and we joked they were actually 3 Week Blinds.

Our house painters will be out here tomorrow to start a few days of work cleaning up the outside of the house with regard to those same windows (and generally redoing the trim, which will result in several windows looking the best they have since before we moved in).

And tomorrow I get my new glasses from the new optometrist. Barring some wacko problem with the lenses, I have faith that he tested my eyes right when the people at BOG just made wild guesses about reading glasses. Which means hopefully glasses that finally work. Finally. A year later.

In another week, more things will have fallen.

Yesterday we had Jared and Melody out for our fraternal-sororal (familial!) Christmas gathering. Yeah, it's been that sort of year. They were busy in January, and then K. was sick before Hawaii, then Melody was sick afterward .... and then it was March 14th. (And poor Melody was still coughing something fierce.)

Anywho, we had lunch at Remy's Cajun La Fiesta and cookies at Pacific Cookie Company and we talked for an hour or two, but then they needed to get back to their pup at home.

Overall, I've actually spent most of weekend working on stuff from my personal TODO list. I've been running through all my different categories of work rather than concentrating on anything, so I rescued a few old board game articles from my BGN articles (and republished them at Mechanics & Meeples), worked on some D&D Classics histories, cleaned up some links for Designers & Dragons, worked on a board game review, and have done various work related to my Moorcock project.

2nd-Mar-2015 09:14 pm - It's the Stressful Week!
Windows. Massive power tool usage was going on downstairs today, often shaking the whole house. The cats were locked in my office, to keep them safe from open doors, and Lucy was frequently cowering while even Callisto was super jumpy. Poor cats! Poor me, as it was one of a few stressors for a stressful week that will continue through to Sunday.

This first stressor was the result of new window installation, which will be continuing through tomorrow. Six windows total are being replaced, including all of our most troublesome ones and all of the really crappy aluminum-frame windows — put in by the butcher who did so many horrible things to this house sometime before we moved in (though this is one of the last major signs of his incompetence).

Generally, we try to use some of the interest we've earned on our savings to do some house work every couple of years; the last major work was the bathroom a few years ago now, so it was definitely time for something new, and several of the windows had long bugged us as cold sinks, wind magnets, and shoulder wrenchers, so we're very happy to see these replaced. Our hope is that the back of the house will be warmer, the winds will stop blowing through our bedroom, my games and books will stop fading, and we can open more windows in summer.

Still, lots of people were moving about the house today and there were lots of thudding noises.

Fortunately, I was able to reduce at least some of the stress thanks to K. She noted that she was listening to a movie on her headphones so that she didn't have to hear all the banging about. Afterward, I started blasting music in my office off of my laptop (which I got some cute little speakers for last year), and that helped.

As of the end of the day, four of the windows are done, but the two more troublesome ones are in process. The installers ripped out lots of wood to get these done, and they found some surprises in how things were constructed. (Basically are walls are like a Twixt bar, with many, many layers.) Hopefully they'll be able to resolve that tomorrow, when they're supposed to finish all the major work. (Fingers crossed.)

In the meantime, the house is a bit of a wreck. K. and I have set up a temporary bed room in the family room, because our bed room has no drapes, no blinds, and a light coating of debris.

Eyes. Today was also my return to the optometrist. A new optometrist, I should say, because the folks at Berkeley Optometric Group wasted most of a year failing to get me acceptable glasses, then wasted another few months processing a refund. They finally cleared everything by the very end of January ... by which time I already had an appointment scheduled with my new optometrist, Dr. Kiyomoto, today at 4pm.

Sadly, after about 20 visits to BOG last week (a literal count), going to an optometrist has become very loaded and a bit stressful; I noticed it on my last few visits to BOG last year. I certainly wouldn't have planned the new optometrist visit the same day as window work, but that's how it ended up.

Anyhow, I spent about 2 hours at Dr. Kiyomoto's office. He was very thorough (and also explained everything a lot). He didn't explicitly say it, but it looks like the doctor at BOG who fit me with progressive lenses four years ago was an idiot. Then when they upgraded my progressive lenses last year, it made the problem even worse.

The problem? I just barely need progressives, so they were making it harder and harder for me to read, not easier.

We'll see if this theory holds out when the new glasses arrive, but I'm hopeful.

Reboots. The third stressor is upcoming. Every single machine at Skotos is going to get rebooted this weekend due to some required security work. Most of them should come back fine, but a couple need to be managed more carefully, and there's always the potential for horrible problems on a reboot.

Very annoyingly, I have to deal with this both Saturday and Sunday morning, and I also have to do a bit of work while gaming on Saturday.

Again, this shouldn't be a big deal, but the logistical requirements are stressful, as is the potential for downside.

On the bright side, I can have a restful Sunday afterward, because K. is going to a class, so I can do whatever I want, wherever I want.

And that's the week of stress. Which is now at least one out of three parts done.
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