Sunday, July 23, 2017

A New Toy

I've done a lot of crafting for our Dungeons and Dragons games over the last three years or so. Much of this has been carving foam board (extruded polystyrene) into all manner of dungeon terrain, cave terrain, buildings, monuments, ruins, etc...

I have done this carving either free hand with a series of knives, or with those same knives and a set of metal rulers, T-squares etc...

On the advice/recommendation of Jeremy from Black Magic Craft on YouTube, I broke down and bought a Proxxon Thermocut hot wire table. The Amazon Prime fairies delivered it yesterday (one day shipping to have it for some of the weekend), and I got to play around with it a little bit last night.
Proxxon Thermocut Hot Wire Table

Oh my gosh. Why did I wait so long to get this!?!?

The wire heats pretty much instantly after hitting the ON switch, and can cut 2 inch thick foam sheets with ease. There is an adjustable fence that can be used on two sides, and can be adjusted for any angle 0 degrees to 90 degrees. It's like a mini table saw for foam.

I have yet to spend much time doing anything with it other than the briefest of test drives, but in a matter of maybe 5 minutes last night I was able to rip several 2 inch tall strips of half-inch foam using the fence, and then freehand those strips into a number of pieces that will become ruined walls.
Ruined wall pieces - mere minutes to make!

Amazingly quick. And easy. And uniform.
Pieces would be assembled like this...

Good stuff. More to come...

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ryder, 4 Months In

Warning: Gratuitous dog photos to follow.

We are four months to the day (plus 1) of being dog owners. [What were we thinking?!?!]

I think it is fair to say that we are training him (seriously?)...
Hey! That's my pillow!!

...and he is training us (for sure).
Sleepy kids...

That being said, it's hard to remember back to a time when we didn't have Ryder as a member of the family.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Then and Now

Perhaps my all-time favorite picture of Julia, Grace and Gina (and there are many!!) is this one from Halloween 2005. Grace would be a little over 1 year old. Julia (bottom) would be 7. Gina would be 6.
Halloween 2005

On a whim, back in May, when the neighbors were over for dinner, we decided to recreate the picture. Same spot. Same people. Same basic pose. Same giggles.
May 2017

The carpet has changed, but the wall color is the same (which we will be changing shortly).
Ages 12, 17 and 18 (top down)

It's amazing to think that we have been friends for 20 years now, and that our kids have never known a time when they didn't know each other.

Pretty cool.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thing 2 Turns Teen

Another thing added to the long list of "hard to believe" is the fact that Grace became a teenager a little while back.

She didn't want a big fuss for her birthday. Her one request was that she have a couple of friends over for the day, go to the mall for some shopping, and have lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. A reasonable request.
Presents and Flying Ryder

She had two of her gymnastics friends over. It was a nice day outside, and judging by the giggling, they all seemed to have a very good day.
Ryder trying to blow out candles

The Cheesecake Factory lunch went well, and they were all astounded by the number of choices on the menu. As an aside, I was at work for this extravaganza, as it was a weekday, and I have still never been to a Cheesecake Factory. Maybe some day...
Grace and friends at the mall

At the end of the day, after the other girls had gone home, the day's events got high praise from Grace: "that was a lot of fun." High praise indeed.

Welcome to your teen years, little one. Yikes.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

More Mapping Fun - Halep

With some time today between coats of wall paint and trim paint drying in the master bedroom, and 3 racks of baby back ribs cooking and needing some periodic attention, I was able to spend 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there to finish the simple town sketch for Halep, a frontier town of ~600 on the Great North Road.

A little more pondering while scribbling has resulted in:
  • A stone walled citadel controlled by the ruling noble family.
  • Fortified stone houses being built on the southern hill by the wealthier citizens, bypassing the need for the Baron to provide protection (and rent his fully-owned buildings within the citadel).
  • Middle class artisans and craftsmen banding together to start building wooden palisade walls around part of the lower town. It's a modest beginning with expansion plans for the future.
  • A fortified temple compound that is a dominant economic force in the town, extending well beyond their primary function as a place of worship for the goddess of the harvest.
  • A three or four way power struggle simmering, and perhaps soon coming to a boil.
Honestly, do I need any of this? No, probably not. But it was a fun diversion from painting, cooking and playing with the dog (all of which are fun in their own right).

Next up - the town of Forlorn, a remote town off the main road approximately 60 miles northwest into the wilderness. I'm thinking Forlorn will be perhaps half the size of this, maybe even a little less. It's in a much more remote and dangerous area. And that's about all I know of it at this point. start the mental processes percolating, who would live in Forlorn and why? What special thing or two could be there? Why would anybody who doesn't live there go there?

Sanctuary Maps - Providence

This badly lit, off-centered picture (taken at my desk during a thunderstorm), is as far as I have gotten with the map for the area around Providence in the world of Sanctuary.

Given that this was thrown together as a quick sketch of a world for a West Marches style "exploring" game, this is as far as I would go ahead of time. I wanted the framework of a region with the major geographic features laid out, but with very little detail. Depending on what the group adventuring in this world wanted to focus on, the world would develop differently.
Providence region (14 by 17 inches, at 6 miles per inch)

Since this will likely never amount to anything more than this sketch, it will end here. Most likely anyway. The few thoughts that I have about some of the locations on this map will soon fade from my memory. That being said, it was an enjoyable exercise in a specific kind of mapping style, and was a nice way to kill a couple of hours.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Mapping Fun

One of the things I enjoy doing as a side-thing while doing something else (half watching a baseball or hockey game or a movie) is scribbling maps. Some of them will get used in our D&D campaign (3 years and counting). Some won't. It doesn't matter. It's fun.

I took a 14 by 17 inch sketch pad and began playing around with ideas for a new world; one which would be used in a West Marches style (episodic) D&D game. Very rudimentary map at this point. Scale is 1 inch = 24 or 30 miles (I forget which without digging for notes, which is way too much trouble...).
The world of Sanctuary

The second part of this doodling was to take another 14 by 17 sheet and expand on a specific area of the larger (first) map. In the map in the first picture, there is a town on the southwestern corner of Harlon Bay. The town is tentatively called Providence. I wanted to do another map adding some detail around that area. This map would be at a level that would be used in actually running a campaign in this world. So 1 inch = 6 miles. I've done more work on this since this picture, and will update with another picture soon.
The town of Providence and environs

Lastly, it seems likely that the players in my ongoing campaign will be heading west from their home base in the Shearingvale region in the near future. So whether or not the players will ever visit any of these places or not, I have begun sketching out some of the places in the world that exist in that direction. The below start on a map is of the town of Halep, a simple frontier town of ~600 people on the Great North Road.
The town of Halep - the first bits

The first stage is to sketch in roads, a couple of hills, the citadel and buildings on the hills, a small wooden palisaded area in town, and a fortified temple complex. The rest of the town will be hastily scattered in around these elements. [Note that it took no more than ~20 minutes of half-attentiveness while listening to a YouTube video to get to this point in the work on the map...I'm not striving for art here...and I've made lots of these simple town maps]

In breaking from the old school Gygaxian tradition that I was raised in, I will not be detailing this town down to every last building, every person, and every cow, sheep and dog. I'll have a few thoughts, and if they ever end up in this town, will be able to improvise everything else.

The entire amount of detail going into this town is (and I've made this up as I've typed it):
  • It's run by the Baron of Halep, an elderly and generally good intentioned but temperamental and erratic leader with delusions of grandeur.
  • The Baron is supportive of the Castle of the New Dawn to the north (a special location built as a safe haven for settlers attempting to resettle the far North, west of Lake Beranarr).
  • The Baron is distrustful of the elves of the realm of Kyrellia to the northwest, and by extension all elves in general.
  • The priests of the fortified temple compound of Meera (agriculture, harvest and planting) are very influential in town, and can be a source of assistance to travelers and adventurers, especially to those of the same or similar faiths. They do a lucrative side business sheltering travelers and selling equipment to adventurers.
  • There is a small wooden palisade area that most of the middle class craftsmen and artisans are crammed into for safety.
And that's it for a simple town. A half hour to forty minutes tops. Nothing more than a skeletal framework that would give me a base from which to improvise.

Anyway, more mapping updates to come, as I enjoy scribbling these sorts of things in my spare time, and have enjoyed trying to make some respectable looking world maps.

Master Bedroom

What better way to spend a 4-day holiday weekend than to repaint another room in the house. No seriously. Our master bedroom was last painted...umm..a lot of years ago. So time for a re-do.

When this room is done, the entire upstairs will be in good shape, and then I will move on to some of the first floor rooms. Office. Dining room. Living room. Family room. Basically everything but the kitchen. Then the basement bedroom. Then...

Anyway...old master bedroom walls in a pumpkin-ish orangey-brown. Ceiling already re-painted. Patched areas primed. Edges cut-in. Ready to roll the first coat.
Old Pumpkin Walls

The first coat of Medici Ivory. A second coat to come tomorrow.
Medici Ivory

Also very happy with the new triple window.
New Triple Window and more Medici Ivory

So the 4th of July will be a second coat of wall color on the two walls, two coats of baseboard trim paint on those two walls, and that will be enough for the day. The window has already had two coats of new trim paint, so at that point the ceiling and two of the walls will be completely done. All that will be left will be to do the two other walls (I have intentionally split the room into two halves, as far as planned effort goes - the second half will likely be next weekend, or maybe nights this week).

As with the other rooms I have done over the past year or so, it feels good to freshen up things. We have now been in this house twenty years, and too many of the rooms were last painted quite a while ago. I want to fix that. It feels good.

In the not-too-distant future...the finished product.

Monday, June 12, 2017


Graduation for our high school's class of 2017 was held today at 4pm at the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware. Julia will continue to go to the high school as a "super senior" until she turns 21, at which time she will transition to a work programs run by the county. But in the meantime, she got to walk with her class, have her name called, go up on stage and get a "diploma".
Julia walking in

It was a hot day outside, but fortunately they had the arena chilled to refrigerator-like temperatures in anticipation of the crowd to come. There were a few songs by the orchestra and chorus as the crowd was filing in, and then the march in music for our ~400 seniors.
Class of 2017

There were brief remarks by the district superintendent and chairperson of the school board, followed by the reading of the 400 names, at which time the students filed across the stage to get their diplomas. The students were organized into the seats by height, not by name, with the order going from shortest to tallest. Odd, but whatever. This did have the effect of making you pay attention to where your kid was so you didn't miss the photo op of the big moment. Julia was in the second row out of about 14 or 15 rows, so we had to pay attention for a brief time, and could then sit back, relax, and cheer whenever we heard a name we knew.
My graduate and my girls

Following that, there were brief speeches by the salutatorian (a.k.a runner-up valedictorian) and valedictorian, closing remarks, and then it was over. Coincidently, the salutatorian was the son of a woman I went to high school with (1 year apart). She is someone that Amp has become good friends with as part of her time doing costumes for the plays, and being associated with the Drama Club folks. Small world. Although I guess not really that small since I grew up and went to high school maybe 10 miles down the road.
Gina, Grace and Julia

The whole thing took about and hour and a half, of which an hour was the name reading and diploma giving...

It was a joy-filled day, and I couldn't possibly be more proud of Julia and what she has been able to accomplish in her high school years. She has come a very long way, and best of all, is a happy and well adjusted young lady. She has had many great experiences, and made many good friends.

We are very proud of her.

Graduation Day

It's easy to get lost in memories as I sit here with a cup of coffee on the morning of the day that Julia will graduate from high school. Mainly, I suppose, I just have the same thought that every other parent in the same situation has ever had - how in the world did the time go so fast?

At 4pm today at the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware, Julia will march with the rest of her class. Her Mom will cry. I will tear up. Grace will ask "when's this gonna be over?"

It will be a good day.
...and Now

Even if it's just not possible.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dwarven Sorcerer WIP

I had enough fun painting the Ranger figure that I have started on a Dwarven Sorcerer figure. It is one of the two Dwarven Wizard figures from the new WizKids D&D unpainted range.
Back WIP

The figs come primed and ready to paint, and are nice sculpts. They are a little less detailed than high end metal figs, being cast in a bendable plastic, but are still good quality.
Front WIP

For this figure, I am going to do light brown robes and green trim. Not sure about the rest yet.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Senior Awards Night

In the interests of not making the Commencement Ceremony take all day, there was a separate senior Awards Ceremony at the high school tonight.

Over the course of two and a half hours (yes, 2.5, not a typo), awards were given out for academics, sports teams, scholarships, service awards, clubs and all manner of other things. Seniors who received an award were invited, and Julia was among them.

She received the Drama Club's service award for female in the fall musical. This we knew about from the Drama Club banquet a month or so ago.
Senior Awards

The second one was for being a founding member in 2014, and four year leader, of the Get Fit Get Connected club. This is a weekly after school social club mixing typical kids and special needs kids for exercise (mainly walking the track and hiking the school grounds). They also hold outside of school events, such as movies, the local trampoline park and other things. Julia was a freshman when they started the club, and one of the few to consistently take part all four years. It was nice to have her recognized, and cool that they would do so in the midst of the sea of academic achievement that was most of the rest of the evening.

Some of the awards were impressive. We had an all-national violinist. Someone who got a full ride scholarship to Bucknell University (the school of her choice) worth ~$228,000. And perhaps most impressively, two students accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

As a side benefit, Commencement will take 1.5 hours and not 4.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Human Ranger

We have a need for a human dual-wielding ranger in one of our D&D games, and the affected player sent me a Reaper/Warlord miniature named "Gildan Elven Vale Ranger" with the request that I paint it for him. After attempting to "de-elf" the ears, that is...
Tygon, human ranger

The figure was very nice, similar in feel to a Games Workshop figure (nicely sculpted, bulky, oversized, and highly detailed).

It's been way too long since I have lifted a brush, and it was very nice to work on a single figure as opposed to doing the assembly line painting of historical miniatures that I am more accustomed to.
Tygon, better lit...

Without putting an undue amount of effort into the figure, I think it came out nicely, and I am happy with it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Grace's Room

Last year, Julia's room got a makeover. This year it's Grace's turn.

She has been wanting to move from her current room at the top of the stairs nearest us (and the hall bath), to what is now Amp's sewing room at the far end of the hall. The main thing being that she doesn't like the wallpaper in her room, but it is in perfectly good condition and we have no interest in removing/replacing or removing and doing enough clean up work on the walls for them to be painted.
Cutting in walls and ceiling

Over Memorial Day weekend I repainted the room, and on Tuesday we moved her furniture while she was back in school. The hardest part was the prep work, especially in the case of a room like this where I had newly put up crown molding. Lots of spackling, sanding and caulking. That was done the previous weekend and in the evenings.
Finished colors

Grace chose a light peach color that looks very nice. Most importantly, she is happy with it.
Looking well-lived in already, days later

The room is slightly smaller than her old room, but it has a small walk in closet that gives her a lot more storage space than she had before. It's also on the sunny side of the house and is one of the warmer rooms in the house, compared to her old room which is on the shady side and is one of the cooler rooms. She's always chilly, so she likes this.

Next is the master bedroom re-do, which I am already doing the prep work on.

Then my office.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Senior Prom

The next major event of graduation season was the Senior Prom, held last night at Drexelbrook, a restaurant and banquet facility in Drexel Hill. In a coming-full-circle moment, I lived in the Drexelbrook Apartments for my first year of life until my parents moved to our childhood home in Springfield.

As has happened for the Junior Prom and the Homecoming Dance, one of Julia's friends from the Drama Club who wasn't otherwise committed for the dance asked Julia if she wanted to go with them. There are lots of good people in the world...

The day started with curly hair straightening by mom, followed by makeup done by a friend who graduated last year but was home from college. Mom had put her sewing skills to use in altering Julia's dress, which looked pretty terrific. Julia hates wearing fancy shoes, so she has become known for wearing all sorts of sequined sneakers. You can't see it in the pictures, but she has some pretty amazing gold sequined sneakers to go with the dress.
Makeup and hair by a friend

Her friend Andy arrived with their parents and we took a bunch of pictures on the deck.
Julia and Andy

Then it was off to another one of the Drama kid's houses, where everyone gathered for more pictures and to wait for the limo bus that would hold 20 or 25 of them for the trip to Drexelbrook and then back to Post Prom at the high school afterwards.
The Drama Club crew

The Prom itself went from 7:30 to 11:00, after which there was Post Prom from 11:00pm to 5:00am.
Drama Club crew again

Post Prom is a very big deal in our school, as it is in many these days (we had no such thing back in the day). Countless volunteer hours and a ton of 100% fundraiser money goes into these things, which are staggering in scope and detail. This year's theme was "The Journey Begins", with a train motif.
Post-prom entry

Gyms, the auditorium, the cafeteria and many other spaces were decorated with theme motifs and loaded with games and activities to keep the kids busy. Once they checked in, they were locked down until 5:00am unless special permission to leave early had been granted. We had permission to take Julia home whenever she wanted to go.

While Prom was going on, the school was open to the public for two hours so that people could come and tour the school and see what all had been done. My favorite part, from a nostalgia perspective, was the older gym that was lined with displays for all the different sports teams, clubs and other groups. Each was loaded with pictures of the senior members of that group.
Drama board with 7 or 8 of Julia

Julia was on a few of the boards, most notably the Drama Club board where she was in 7 or 8 pictures from the 7 different shows she had been in, and the Chorus board, where she was a member for all four years.
Julia on the Chorus board

During Prom, we got a few texts saying that she was having fun, but we wondered how long she would last at Post Prom. Our thought was not very long, and she surprised us by lasting until about 1:15am, at which time I got the call to come get her.

She was one exhausted but happy girl. And there's nothing to make a Dad happier than that.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Graduation Party

It's hard to believe that my little girl is a senior, and will be graduating with her class in less than a month. The month next is chock full of graduation related and end-of-school-year activities, not the least of which was a graduation party for Julia.
McKenzie Brew House - downstairs

We were a little late deciding what we wanted to do, and opted for renting out the downstairs of McKenzie Brew House, a nice place very close to home. Timing was difficult, as many of her friends already had graduation parties on the calendar, and finding a date that would't overlap with too many of her "important" people's parties and other events wasn't easy. We ended up with Friday May 19, and were one of the earlier parties.
Julia and BFFs

McKenzie's did a really nice job, with good food, good desserts and a full bar (yay for the adults). We brought a cake of our own and set up a "make a takeaway bag" candy bar. People seemed to enjoy that.

The party ran from 6pm until 10-ish, and we had a great turnout of Julia's classmates (especially from the drama club), kids from her classes, teachers from throughout the years, and of course family and friends of the family. In all we had about 75 people in and out over the course of the evening, a core group of which stayed for most of that time. Even a couple of Julia's best friends from last year were back from college to attend.
Grace and friend with selfie silliness

One of the great treats for me leading up to the party (other than that we didn't have to do much of the work!) was in putting together a slide show of pictures of Julia from throughout the years. McKenzie's had a few large screen TVs on walls around the room, and were set up to plug a laptop into and play whatever we wanted. Making the slide show was a wonderful trip down memory lane, and had the side benefit of finally forcing me to do something I had been meaning to do for a very long time - get all the digital photo history of our family gathered together in one place. It has always been my fear that an old computer will fail, or a backup hard drive will get corrupted, and with it will go every picture from several years of our life. We don't print many hard copies of pictures anymore.

Anyway, the slide show grow to the point that it had about 200 pictures and ran for about 20 minutes. It looped all evening, and got rave reviews.

All told, Julia had a great time being the center of attention, and the party was a complete success.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Enter Sandman - Mariano Rivera Day

A funny thing happened on the way to Julia's Challenger League baseball game today. The greatest relief pitcher in baseball history showed up and pitched an inning. OK, it wasn't a surprise...
Rivera addresses the crowd

Apparently Mariano has a connection to some local charitable organizations through his Mariano Rivera Foundation. Earlier in the day there was a 1st annual Mariano Rivera 5k run, after which he would hang out and pitch at the special needs Challenger game.
Rivera and Julia's Challenger team

Honestly, I don't think any of these kids had any idea who this guy was, but many of the parents did. Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the game, and a sure future Hall of Famer. He has the most Saves in MLB history, the most games finished, the lowest ERA in post-season history, and the most Saves in post-season history. Pretty much all you could ask for in a relief pitcher (even if he did play for the hated Yankees).
Julia and Rivera

He was a really nice guy, and the event was very low key. I can't imagine him doing a similar thing in the New York city area and not being mobbed. As it was, there weren't many people at the event that didn't have a reason to be there, and there was nobody I saw asking for autographs. He chatted with various people, and took a lot of pictures, but it was all very respectful and laid back.

For me, I can chalk this up as a random brush with greatness. Based on this act of kindness alone, I now like the guy. Even if he was a Yankee...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

End of an Era

Growing up, we spent countless summer weekends at my grandparents' summer place on the Sassafras River on the upper eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. It is safe to say that I have more happy memories tied to this place than to any other on earth. And that is saying something, given that I have had the great good fortune to be one of those lucky people to have had a happy childhood, youth, young adulthood (and adulthood for that matter).

Brother Dave and I, and many of our friends over the years, swam like fish. Boated. Fished. Learned to water ski. Stayed up way too late and got up way too early. Got stitches. Threw baseballs. Played with those big metal lawn darts that are illegal now. Played badminton. And volleyball. Flashlight tag at night. Searched for indian arrow heads (finding some). Got fish hooks stuck in places where fish hooks shouldn't get stuck. Wandered off in a row boat for hours on end. Snuck a few beers when we were older. In short, we had a childhood. And a pretty wonderful one at that.
Kids fishing on the pier

As for the house itself, it was built in the 19-teens as a two family fishing and hunting lodge. My grandfather bought it in the late 1950's. He added a second story, and a bulkhead along the waterline where there had been beach before. Over the years a series of renovations were done. These were well-intentioned but not particularly well-planned or well-executed. The floor plan got...odd. The plumbing and electrical systems were overmatched. Of greater concern was the fact that the house was built on a foundation of nothing very substantial. We used to laugh that if you went down into the little basement area and looked out through the crawl spaces, you would see that the only thing holding up the house was a few cinder blocks, a couple of stumps and a few little posts. Sadly, this was not really an exaggeration.
Fishing off the bulkhead at dusk

All of which led to periodic discussions of rebuilding the house. As in knocking it down and starting over. My grandparents passed in 1984 and 1999, and my mom has been the owner of the house since then. For a long time, the idea of demolishing the old house was mentioned from time to time, but not seriously considered. Dad didn't see the value in the cost (understandable), and Mom couldn't bear the thought of knocking down the house that had been so important to all of us (also understandable).

As is the case with the passing of time, things change, and to skip ahead, the house that my grandfather referred to as the Triangle Lodge (due to the triangle shaped lot that the house sat on), is no more.  After the better part of a year of studies, applications, public hearings and finally permits, demolition began a week or so ago.
Beginning the tear-down

A few days later, nothing was left but the last few remnants of rubble from the tear-down. As excited as I am about the prospect of a nice new modern house that will be a pleasure to stay in, and that will more readily allow my kids to have many of the great experiences that I had here, there is also a sadness. A very deep sadness.
Where a special house used to be

The old house, for all its increasingly hard to live with limitations, is (was) the summer house of my childhood. The original sections of the house, made of hand-fitted tongue and groove pine planking, cannot be replaced. Nor can the fact that it was the house where Grandpop grew tomatoes and cucumbers in the garden beyond the carport. Where Grandmom and Aunt Sandy made weekend dinners. Where hand-washing the dishes was a group family ritual because there wasn't a dishwasher in the original tiny kitchen. The refrigerator on the porch. Where Uncle Dick would sometimes come down and spend time with the rest of us. Where Dad taught me to fish, and played catch with Dave and I. They are all gone and now so is the house; an all-too-visceral reminder of the passing of time.
Sunset west/northwest beyond Ordinary Point

So time marches on, and things improve in their way, but it is also not a bad thing to pause and reflect on the past, and what it means to us. In this case, it means more than I can say, and I sincerely hope that the ghosts of the past will take up residence in the new house that will be built on this spot. I can't imagine the River without them...