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...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Brown Tone Dungeon Tiles

When I feel the urge to do some crafting these days, and I don't have the energy to come up with something totally new to do, I add a few more pieces to my ever-expanding set of modular terrain pieces for our Dungeons and Dragons games. In this particular case. I decided to add some "brown tone" dungeon tiles.

Instead of base coating the pieces in a dark gray and then highlighting them with two shades of medium and light gray, I decided that these would represent chambers carved out of sandstone, and thus would be dark brown, highlighted with two shades of medium and light brown, and then spot highlighted with the usual medium and light gray.

For these tiles, the base coat was a Behr flat latex house paint called "Swiss Brown"

The first sponged highlight was Folk Art "Honeycomb", a warm medium brown. The dark brown base coat can be seen showing through.
First highlight - Honeycomb

The second highlight was a sponged Folk Art "Camel", a light tan.
Second highlight - Camel

A third spot-highlight was Folk Art's "Medium Gray".
Third highlight - Medium Gray

Lastly, a fourth and final random dabbing of Folk Art "Dove Gray".
Fourth/Final highlight - Dove Gray

The colors are a little stark in the pictures, but blend very well on the table. The total addition to the inventory for this little project was maybe 8 or 9 room tiles, 5 or 6 sections of 10 foot wide passageway, and 5 or 6 sections of five foot wide passageway. (In this scale, each "square" is 5 feet).

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Training Day

Ryder is still adorable, but the boy needs some work. Boundless enthusiasm is a good thing. To a point. For first time dog owners, harnessing this boundless energy is going to require some help.

To that end, a well-recommended in-home dog trainer came to the house this morning and spent two and a half hours with us, and with Ryder. We discussed our perception of his issues, what end result we were looking for, and were given guidance on what steps we would be taking to get him to that end point.
Saturday morning, before gymnastics

It's clear that our trainer will be training us as much as he will be training the dog, but the progress we were able to make in one session was remarkable. That being said, we have homework. Lots of homework. And training the dog will be work, there is no mistaking that. Some will be easy. Some won't. But if we truly want the end result that we say we want, we will stick to the plan, and do what we need to do.
Lazy Sunday morning, 8:30am

What I like about this trainer and this approach is that it is not about strong negative reinforcement. I don't want to get the dog "trained" by breaking his spirit. This method is not about that.

So we will keep our fingers crossed. And take comfort in the fact that Julia and Grace were each able to take turns walking Ryder this afternoon with no pulling/dragging issues. Remarkable...

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Hollywood Stars Meet

Grace wrapped up her first season of competition meets today at the Star Bound gym in Bridgeton New Jersey, the same place that held the Lucky Leprechaun meet back on March 19 (Dog Day!).

In summary, the competition was stiffer, the judging was tougher, and Grace did great.

She placed fourth on vault (9.1) and floor (8.9), sixth on bars (8.8) and seventh on beam (8.75). This was good for sixth in the all around at 35.55. Out of 14 or 15 competitors in her class rating.
Representing Crosspoint Gymnastics well (4th vault)

Vault tied her personal best, but it was clear from the start that the judging was harder than in previous meets. And that the competition was much tougher (and more numerous) than the first two meets. More than the scores and the ribbons, Grace came away feeling good that she had knew she had done very well, and that she had represented her team well, scoring highest in three of the four events, and in the all around. In an admitted bit of total hypocrisy (just between us), we tell her that she is only competing against herself. Which is true. But it still gives a dad a lot of pride every time that her name is called and she takes her place on the podium. So forgive me...

More importantly, she continues to learn what it means to be a part of a team. And if there were one thing I would like her to take away from this whole experience, that would be it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Final Curtain Call

The high school's spring musical performance of Gypsy was held between March 9th and 11th, with four shows. This was the last show of Julia's senior year, and I can't believe that she has reached the end (?) of the road. She wasn't in the fall show of her freshman year, but beginning with her favorite musical of all time, Les Miserables, in the spring, she has done every show since. Little Mermaid and Oliver! sophomore year. Footloose and Music Man junior year. And Bye Bye Birdie and Gypsy senior year.
Les Miserables, "bystander #2"

The Little Mermaid was probably the most fun from a costuming perspective (a pursuit that would dominate Amp's falls and springs for three plus years...). Shame I can't seem to find a picture.
Post-Oliver, with Fagin

Oliver! in sophomore year was a highlight. I loved the movie of this show as a kid, and I still found it very enjoyable as an adult. There are several great songs in this show.
Oliver! set, curtain call

Junior year started with Footloose. I can honestly say that I had never seen the popular movie of this (with Kevin Bacon), so I didn't really know what to expect other than knowing the title song from the radio growing up. I was surprisingly pleased. This was a good story and a good show.

Spring of junior year was The Music Man. I had seen the movie of this as a kid, and it felt like it would be pretty dated. It was, but a good show nonetheless, with some good songs.
Music Man w/BFF C

Senior year unfortunately started with a dud. Bye Bye Birdie was not a great show. The kids did fine with it, but it was an outdated sexist bit of fluff without a whole lot of redeeming music. My least favorite of the seven Jules was in, but she definitely nailed it as "townswoman".
Townswoman in Bye Bye Birdie

Senior year ended strong, though, with Gypsy. I had never seen this show until catching the recent version they showed on PBS "Great Performances" over the winter (starring Imelda Staunton, the actress who played Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies). I really like this one a lot. This was a good story, had good songs, and the kids did a fabulous job.
Jules and Gypsy Rose Lee, Gypsy

The second annual GVHS Performing Arts Association banquet was held on Sunday March 26, and it was a nice affair (this is a great event and I hope they keep doing it!). The kids got to bask in their accomplishments, with slide shows, videos, and a slew of awards. In addition to her senior award plaque with the names of all seven shows she was in, Julia won the student-voted Senior Service Award (Girl) for the Fall Musical. This came as a complete surprise, and was a moving moment for Amp and I.

Drama Club has been a wonderful experience for Julia, and I will be forever grateful to the many different kids throughout the years who have taken her under their wing, being a friend to her, and helping her through the countless hours of practice time. Accomplishment is a relative thing, and while some parents get to be proud of their kid for being Jean Valjean in Les Miz, or Ariel the Little Mermaid, or Gypsy Rose Lee, we couldn't possibly be more proud of our "bystander #2", our "townswoman" or our "lady in a red hat". She was absolutely positively the best "bystander #2" ever!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lucky Leprechaun Meet

Grace's second Excel team (silver) meet (the Lucky Leprechaun Meet) was the morning of Sunday March 19 at the Star Bound Gymnastics Gym in Bridgeton NJ.

Grace did well in her first team meet in February (at the Dalmatian Classic), but was very tough on herself, believing she could have done better. We told her that she did fine (which she did), but that if she was disappointed, she should use that as fuel to do better next time. Which she did. She practiced hard, did extra work at home, and focused on beating her own scores at the second meet.

In the four events, she came in second on vault (9.1), second on beam (9.1), third on floor (9.0), and didn't place in bars (but still had a personal best score, 8.9, for her young career...). Her scores were remarkably consistent. All four events were personal bests for her, and her consistency, with no bad events, was good enough for third place overall in her class (36.1). Proud mom and dad. And more importantly, she was proud of herself.
3rd place, overall

And then the rest of the day became dog, dog and more dog (as detailed previously).

Her third and final meet of the spring season will be in a couple of weeks, and it will be at the same gym. Our advice to her is the same as last time - compete against yourself, do your best, and whatever happens happens. Root for your friends and teammates, be happy when they do well, and if you do well enough to get some more awards, well, that's fine too, but it's not the most important part.

Grace hasn't been a big athlete thus far, but I am very happy that she has begun to take her gymnastics seriously. It's a good experience to be part of a team, she has made a bunch of good friends, and she is learning the meaning of hard work. In addition to whatever other practicing she may do, Excel team practices are two nights a week, 7pm to 9pm, and they work the kids very hard. On school nights. Which is great for her. Difficult things come from hard work. And she's working hard.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Upcoming Concerts

After not having done a great job in getting to concerts over the last couple of years, there are a number of shows on the horizon.

Tickets have been purchased for the Moody Blues 50th anniversary concert for the Days of Future Passed album at the Mann Music Center in the summer. This will be me and (someone?). They are old. I go. Period.

Amp and I will be going to see James Taylor and special guest Bonnie Raitt at the Wells Fargo Center also in the summer.

Ticket purchase is pending for me and Grace to see the Philadelphia Orchestra play the score live while the film Return of the King (last of the Peter Jackson/Tolkien Lord of the Rings movies) shows on a huge screen behind them. Grace is really excited about this (apparently they also do Harry Potter movies, etc...). This is also at the Mann, which is a fantastic outdoor amphitheater which holds many great summer memories for me.

Brother Dave and I have also briefly discussed the possibility of Little Feat at the Keswick in May. I hope that can happen.

All exciting stuff...

A Little D&D Crafting

Our D&D campaign has continued along at its leisurely pace, which has given me plenty of time between sessions to craft various bits of specialized terrain and landmarks as the mood strikes. With the big battle at the end of a 10-session Underdark story arc coming up, I thought it would be fun to create a custom battle board for the fight at the demon temple. This ended up being the most involved bit of custom crafting I have done.
A base for the Temple of Queralath

The final battle would be at a demon-summoning temple atop a cliff overlooking a large Underdark lake. So I made a landing area at the foot of a cliff, atop which I could drop a custom built temple board. All would sit on a "water board" I had made previously. While this bit of crafting was done specifically for this battle, everything I made would be modular and reusable except perhaps the temple enclosure itself. The "shore layer" is a separate piece, as are all of the cliff layers and the stair pieces. Within the temple area, only the basic box outline and balcony area aren't individual pieces.
The completed Temple of Queralath (battle in progress)

Within the temple area, the two oval rock outlines are summoning portals, which have translucent tops under which are color-changing LED votive lights. It made for a nice effect throughout the battle.
Temple close up (battle in progress)

Once the Underdark battle was completed (difficult but successful) and the characters wrapped things up and got back to the surface, I was excited by the prospect of doing some above-ground stuff for a while. One planned encounter in their first foray into the Onorian wilderness north of the town of Linden (their home base) revolved around an eroded causeway leading out to an ancient elven monument in some swamps.
Swamps and the Monument of Irileth

For this terrain set up I used a pair of new "swamp" base boards, a few new little "causeway" pieces, and then a handful of existing "runic monument" pieces, hills from my historical miniatures gaming stuff, and a few rock scatter pieces from the Underdark stuff I had made.
Swamp spawn swarm the Monument

There will be more on the battles themselves when I get around to the write-ups on my Myaran Realms blog, but the point of this post was just to show some of the terrain and battle pics. Not to mention the fact that the D&D miniatures collection continues to grow...


Our trial week is up tomorrow, and the outcome has been a foregone conclusion since about day 2. We mailed the signed forms, told the rescue folks to cash the check, and Ryder is ours for good.
Are you my daddy?

It's been a whirlwind of a week. Invisible Fence gets installed in two weeks. Some behavior training sessions start Monday evening. We are now the local Petsmart store's best friend.

The kids love him (we all do), and while he definitely needs some training, he is very good in the most basic (and important) ways: housebroken, a great sleeper, not a biter, not a barker, not a chewer (mostly), and good with the kids.
Handsome profile (squirrel!!)

A few warmer days have brought out a multitude of birds, squirrels, and deer. Which in turn has brought out the hunter/tracker instinct in Ryder. Walks which had gotten easier have gotten harder again. He's a strong boy.
Always nose to the ground

But he's a good boy. And now he is officially ours.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ryder, Day 3

Day 3, Tuesday March 21.
The turning-point day.

Today was the day that we hoped would reinforce the positive developments of day 2 and continue to assuage the fears of day 1. In summary, that's what we got. Amp had a bunch of ladies come over for mah jong in the morning, and Ryder was calm and well behaved. Food was present and he didn't make a nuisance of himself. Strangers were in the house and he didn't go bonkers. His walks were a little more walk and a little less owner-drag. A little.
Homework and toy-chewing

We had a vet appointment at 5:15 to have him checked out, and everything went very well. He seems to be happy, healthy and well-adjusted. We detailed our observations of him, and the vet said "congrats, you definitely have a beagle".

We had lots of questions of course, and were impressed with the vet and the assistant we dealt with. We asked about what breed he seemed to be, and they thought he was mostly blue tick beagle with not much sign of anything else. We asked if he was actually one year old and they said that seemed to be pretty accurate, as best they could tell. We asked if he was 20 pounds, and they said no, he's 26 pounds and likely on his way to ~35 pounds, given that he is perhaps not done growing yet and has been recently neutered, and will therefore "thicken up" a bit in the next couple of years (he is very lean now). So our small dog may end up nearing 40 pounds. But that's fine. Once you are a part of the family, you are part of the family. And that's where we are. He's ours. Additional training we will deal with. Fencing the back yard we will deal with. But he's a good healthy dog and we all love him. So...welcome to the family, Ryder.
Ryder making himself at home

With everyone in a good frame of mind, the evening was low-key and relaxing. We ate dinner. We walked the dog. Julia did her thing. Grace worked on her homework. Amp enjoyed not being the sole caretaker of the dog. Ryder roamed the house, playing with me, Julia or Grace as the situation allowed. It was as nice a night as we could have wanted. All things considered, we couldn't have expected a much better transition for a new pet over a 3-day period.

As I sit here writing this at 10:15pm, the kids are in bed. Amp is in bed reading. Ryder is in his crate, sleeping without a single peep. Life is good.

He's a keeper.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ryder, Day 2

Day 2, Monday March 20.
Ryder's first full day with us would be a school and work day. We got up at 5:45, I hopped in the shower to get ready for work and Amp went down to walk him for his morning potty break. He had been good all night, and took care of his business quickly and easily. He seemed calmer and more at ease, but it was hard to say in the few minutes before everyone but Amp headed out. It would be a curiosity filled day, trying to be productive at work while constantly wondering what was going on at home.

It turns out the what was happening at home was Ryder taking Amp on a 2-mile walk/trot. And then a wonderful thing happened. They got back to the house and Ryder did this:
Sleepy pup

Texts throughout the day, and a couple of quick phone calls, seemed to indicate that we had a significantly different pup on day 2 than we did on day 1. High energy yes, but more under control and calmer. This was very encouraging, as we really wanted to keep him. If we felt we could.

When the kids got home, they noticed the same change as mom had. The pendulum began to swing toward optimism, and with a vet appointment scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday), everyone (including me) began to be hopeful that perhaps this might work...

Ryder, Day 1

Day 1 - Sunday March 19.
From 2pm until bedtime at 10pm, Sunday was all about excitement. The girls were excited. And Ryder was (sometimes literally) bouncing off the walls. I don't think he sat or lay down at all until about 9:30.
Sunday, 1:15pm, waiting...

We walked him 8 or 9 times to try to take the edge off of his boundless energy and enthusiasm, and in the hopes that we could settle him down a little bit. But no amount of walking (and trotting) made him less of a perpetual motion machine. And walks were an experience in and of themselves; an experience that could best be described as water-skiing behind a remarkably strong dog for its size. Grace couldn't handle him. Julia didn't even try. It was all that Amp and I could do to keep him in check. Which was concerning, as we had wanted a modest sized dog of modest energy level. We weren't seeing modest energy level. To say the least. But we understood that this was a day of entirely new experiences for him, and he was likely to be abnormally wound up.
Sunday, 1:30pm, meeting Ryder, poop and all

Which isn't to say that we weren't seeing some really good qualities in him as well. He was gorgeous; a classic beagle with many of the signature hound characteristics. His walks were almost entirely head down, nose to the ground, snuffling along the trail of every scent imaginable. He didn't bite. He didn't chew anything he wasn't supposed to. He was housebroken. He ate readily. He would sometimes sit on command. He was good with the kids. But he did show the tendency to try to climb people, tables, shelves, kitchen islands, and anything else he could reach standing on his back legs. And we couldn't eat dinner without putting him in his crate.

So there were many concerns as day 1 of our 7 day trial wound down. At around 8:30 or 9pm, Grace cried a little bit, saying that she was afraid we wouldn't be able to keep him. Amp and I were afraid that might prove to be true as well. But it was only day 1, a high stress day, and we would have to see what the future would bring. We told Grace to be patient, and we still had time...
New strange places

And then at around 9:30 in the evening, as we were mulling over the day's events and starting to think about moving toward bed, we all sat down in the family room, exhausted. And Ryder trotted into the room, looked around, climbed up on the love seat between Amp and Grace, and flopped down, his head on Amp's lap. He sighed loudly, closed his eyes, and started to doze off. It was nice moment. We were tired, and finally, apparently, so was he.

After spending a little while petting him, we took him to his crate. He went in easily, laid down and curled up. We all went up to bed, and didn't hear more than a solitary whimper or two. He slept without a peep from 10pm to 6am the next morning...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pigs in Flight

Much to the chagrin of the kids, I have been extremely clear on the fact that we will never get a dog. Painfully, consistently, stubbornly clear. I have never had a dog. I've never wanted a dog. I don't particularly like dogs. I don't want a dog. Not now. Not ever. Not under any circumstances. Never. Ever. Never ever.

So this is our new dog Ryder.

According to the rescue folks we got him from, he is a one year old blue tick beagle believed to have a touch of coon hound. He was listed as ~20 pounds, probably full grown or very close to it, and of modest energy level. He was housebroken, good with kids, somewhat trained, and with no major issues. If his picture was any indication, he really was a beautiful dog.
Ryder and Grace

He was turned in to a 72-hour shelter in North Carolina on March 3, saved by a local rescue shelter, "transferred for disposition" to a Philadelphia-area rescue shelter, and listed for adoption on or around his expected arrival date in Philly on Sunday March 19. We submitted an application, were approved, and were first in line for Ryder if we wanted him. Which we did.

Following Grace's gymnastics meet in south Jersey in the morning (more on that later...), we made our way to the parking lot of the Red Roof Inn in Essington near the airport. In a somewhat surreal scene that felt vaguely reminiscent of some kind of spy movie gone weird, us and a handful of other people all gathered in the parking lot to meet the rescue folks and the incoming transport drivers in three or four SUVs bringing in 3-4 dogs each from the Carolinas and Georgia. Adoptions (or trials) had been arranged with all these different people, and everyone was here to sign papers and pick up dogs.

Ryder was in the second vehicle that arrived, and by around 1:30pm, we had a trial dog. Grace cried. Julia teared up a little. Amp was happy. It was a good moment. And yes, I was happy too.

By 2:00pm we were home. The rest of the day was quite a day. More on that later, but suffice it to say that "modest energy level" perhaps didn't quite do justice to things...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

John Wetton

Brother Dave sent me an email with this news this morning. Ugh.
John Wetton

John Wetton, bassist and singer for King Crimson and (way more importantly for me) Asia died today at the age of 67 after a battle with colon cancer.

Wetton's death announcement on his own website...

For a 70's and 80's music lover in general, and prog rock fan in particular, the body blows just keep coming. Chris Squire of Yes in 2015. Glen Frey, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake in 2016. Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon in there somewhere. Now Wetton in 2017.

I can't help but to think what Carl Palmer must be thinking. He lost the "E" and "L" in ELP in 2016. Now he loses the singer/bassist from his other band Asia in 2017. Mortality sucks.

A few good things:
  • An Extraordinary Life - My favorite Asia song from the most recent 3 reunion albums. An extraordinary life indeed. A tribute to hope, optimism and the future.
  • Ride Easy - A forgotten "B" side song from the early 80's that is a favorite of mine.
  • Daylight. Another "B" side from the Alpha album that I like very much (and a fun demo version of Daylight from before the song had lyrics beyond the chorus...)
Farewell to yet another.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Charlie Brown Had It Right

This may be the only post of its kind that I will ever write here.


I consider myself a fairly progressive and open-minded person when it comes to social issues. I am brother to a handicapped man. Father to a handicapped daughter. Friend, acquaintance, or distant acquaintance to a variety of LGBT people. Husband to someone not from around here. Father to a pair of mixed-race daughters.

Wonderful people come in every imaginable variety.

My view of the kind of world I want to live in is one of...
  • Understanding
  • Inclusion
  • Open-mindedness
  • Rationality
  • Harmony
  • Peace
  • Fairness
  • Decency
  • Knowledge
  • Facts
  • Truth
Every day now I wake up and can't help but to see the news.

My reaction is pretty much always the same.

Oh Good Grief.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Appendix N

An often referred to thing in old school role playing game discussions is the fabled "Appendix N". This is the list of "inspirational and educational reading" that Gary Gygax included in the back of the Dungeon Masters Guide, the third and final book of the holy trinity of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. The list included most of the sources from which D&D was cobbled together, oftentimes lifting thoughts and ideas wholesale.
My original 1979 DMG, worn and yellowed

My exposure to the books and authors on this list was relatively sparse back in 1979, when the DMG was published (and purchased). I was somewhat of a fantasy geek back in junior high and high school (yes, before junior high became "middle school"), but apparently my geekdom was minor league at best, everything being relative. Of the things on the list, I could (and still can) claim to have read Tolkien, Robert E Howard (Conan the Barbarian), HP Lovecraft (Cthulhu, supernatural horror), Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser) and Michael Moorcock (Elric of Melnibone). Not on the "Appendix N" list, I had read the first several of the Piers Anthony Xanth series books (of which Amazon says there are now 35!!), as well as the first few of Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey's Thieves World series. Maybe a few other things. And that was about it.
Appendix N, with the patina of age...

Thirty years or more having passed since I read most of the books noted above (Tolkien being the exception, as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings get a re-read every half dozen years or so), so I have begun taking an extended literary stroll down memory lane and revisiting some of these books. I've gotten through the first book and a half of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser... Very entertaining.
Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

I'm partway through the first Conan book... Very entertaining as well.

...and am partway through one of the new ones I want to read; Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. The idea of Law and Chaos, the foundation of alignment in D&D (a 3 by 3 grid of lawful/neutral/chaotic and good/neutral/evil), is based on this book and its battle between the forces of Law and the forces of Chaos. I'm only a night's reading into this, so it's too early to tell what my final opinion will be, but it is not an easy read - too much phonetically exaggerated "dialect" that detracts from the story. But that being said, I am reading this for the historical perspective with regards to the foundations of D&D and not so much the quality of the read itself (although, of course, I do hope it turns out to be a good book). More to come on this one.
Three Hearts and Three Lions

Lastly, and I haven't picked these up yet, I want to read some of Jack Vance, specifically The Dying Earth. The system of magic user spell-casting in D&D is so directly lifted from Vance that Gary Gygax asked Vance if he could use the concept in his game, and the resulting way of regulating spell use in fantasy role playing games has become known as "Vancian magic". Basically, magic users memorize spells, and after they cast them, they forget them, and have to memorize them all over again before they can use them again. I think this will be another interesting one to read...

Funny the ebbs and flows of things, and how this particular rekindling of an interest has led me back around to a time that seems so distant it is almost like the shadow of a memory of something that happened to someone else entirely. Up the stairs and to the left to my room. Light blue walls. Hardwood floors and light tan carpet. Bookcases on the outside wall. Little student desk under the window overlooking the back yard. Bed tucked into the corner next to the desk. Homework is done and nothing particular to do. Grab a book. Flop on the bed. Take a journey to somewhere else...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Greg Lake

As I have noted before, these "it was with great sadness that I read that xyz had died..." posts are becoming all too routine. Talking with brother Dave at his house on Christmas day, he mentioned something about Greg Lake dying, joining Keith Emerson's death earlier in the year, to which my reaction, unaware of this was, "whaaa??"
Greg Lake

Emerson Lake and Palmer was one of my favorite prog rock bands in the late 70's and early 80's (I was kinda young and got on the bus a little late). I loved that kind of music then, and still do now. Greg was a terrific singer, guitarist and bass player.

In addition to his work with ELP, I will also remember his short stint with Asia. When John Wetton left the band in 1983 (partway through the Asia in Asia documentary/concert film), Greg stepped in and took over the bass and vocal work on the (at that time rare) full length live concert broadcast on MTV (Asia live at the Budokan), joining ELP band mate Carl Palmer. He did a nice job with only 10 days to prepare (although you can see him reading a teleprompter for the lyrics).

A few morsels:
  • Lucky Man (1974) - Greg at his peak. It's also hilarious to watch him chewing gum all the way through the song. Anytime there is a second to spare, he takes a few chomps. Seems hard enough to play guitar and sing without worrying about choking on your gum, but hey...
  • Lucky Man in 2013 on the Moody Blues Cruise. Voices deepen with age, but not tremendously different...
  • Still You Turn Me On (1974) - Great song. This one has another thing I will always remember about Greg - the need to force a rhyme no matter how dumb. In this case, we get the best/worst of all time - "...sadder...madder...someone get me a ladder." Oh my...
  • Hoedown (1973) - More about Keith Emerson here, but ELP at their best.
  • Welcome Back my Friends (London 2010) - Still OK on their 40th anniversary reunion tour.
  • Welcome Back my Friends (Montreal 1977) - ELP at the peak. Faster and more frantic. And thinner... Greg on guitar this time instead of bass.
Greg Lake may not have been the household name that Prince or David Bowie or others who passed this year might have been, but his death makes me nostalgic, and his passing is far more personal to me. Another piece of childhood gone...

Christmas Goodness

The holidays may well be mainly about spending time with family and friends, but no matter how old you get, you can still appreciate a few nice Christmas gifts, and the family treated me well again this year.

We are fortunate that gifts are about wants and not needs, and the following will certainly bear that out. All nice to have; none particularly necessary.

First is a pair of 25mm European village buildings from Miniature Building Authority. I have as many of these as I realistically need, but adding one or two interesting ones every now and then is a treat. "Postern gate II" is on the left, and "Alleygate #1" is on the right. Both are different enough from the townhouse and castle pieces that I already have to make them very nice additions to the collection.
Miniature Building Authority buildings (25mm)

Next are a trio of books on widely varied subjects: an 1862-63 scenario book for the Regimental Fire and Fury miniatures ruleset, and a pair of classic books on lost treasures of the southwest by J. Frank Dobie, Coronado's Children (1930) and Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver (1939?), covering some of the most famous legends and tales of the region.
Some Fun Reading

Lastly, there is a trio of books on musical subjects from brother Dave and his family: Springsteen's autobiography, a book on Yes, and a book on Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The ELP book is especially timely in that I saw the Carl Palmer Band last summer performing ELP music, in the same year that Keith Emerson died earlier in the year and Greg Lake died at the very end. As has been well documented elsewhere, it is hard to believe the number of musicians we lost in 2016. Included on that list are some very high profile ones that didn't mean all that much to me (David Bowie and Prince), and some other names that did (Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and of course Glenn Frey of the Eagles).
Music books

Thanks to all for the wonderful gifts and the hours of reading enjoyment they will certainly give me.

Monday, January 2, 2017

In Search of Lost Treasure

I've always had a fascination with the strange and mysterious. Tales of lost treasures enthralled me as a boy (and beyond). Perhaps that is why I majored in archaeology in college, and it is no great surprise that a particular show caught my eye.

I've become addicted to The Curse of Oak Island on the History Channel, which is an admittedly overly dramatized docu-drama about a few guys throwing tremendous amounts of money into the search for whatever is hidden on Oak Island (Nova Scotia). I won't attempt to detail the history of this treasure hunt (click the link above), but it began in 1795 and has captivated people ever since. All sorts of odd things have been found on the island, and theories of what is buried there (which assumes that anything is buried there of course) range from the lost Templar treasures including the Holy Grail, Spanish conquistador treasure, pirate booty, and the lost manuscripts of Shakespeare (along with the theory that they were written by Francis Bacon).

Wanting a little more history and background than the show provides, I picked up The Secret Treasure of Oak Island and another related book or two. This is the first one I have gotten through, and it is exactly what I was looking for. It's an easy read, and it is fun to think about all the weirdness related to this island and what it might mean. And maybe it means nothing at all. But it is entertaining. I would heartily recommend both the show and the book.
The Oak Island Mystery

If you are going to read stories about treasure hunting, then one thing will surely lead to another. I know that there are a multitude of tales and legends about lost Spanish mines and native american treasures in the southwestern United States, so I browsed the ratings of some books on the subject and picked up Four Days From Fort Wingate by Richard French.
Lost Treasures of the Southwest

I'm happy to say that this was another very fun read. It is the story of what have become known as the Lost Adams Diggings, located somewhere in eastern Arizona or western New Mexico. This is another treasure hunt that has fascinated a great many people over a very long time (click the link for a good summary). The 259 pages flew by very quickly, and were a nice recounting of the legend, the various interpretations of the clues, and the searches of various individuals over the years. It is rounded out by a summary of the author's own investigations, explorations and conclusions. Like the Oak Island mystery, it may be real, partly real, or completely legend, but it is an entertaining read.

With these two books under my belt and another one or two on the nightstand, there was always Christmas coming soon and people looking for gift ideas, but that is a story for another post.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Days and Nights Before Christmas

Twas the days and nights before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring. Except for 6 guys doing a new roof, 3 guys doing house wrap and new siding, and 2 more installing new windows on three sides of the house. I think there was also something about "a clatter", which would be appropriate. Clatter. Clatter. Clatter all day. Clatter every day. Clatter during every daylight hour. And beyond.
A new roof

This is hopefully the last major project (and by far the largest and most expensive) to remove the Pulte stain from our Pulte house. Piece by piece over the years we have fixed, removed and replaced the multitude of shoddy materials, shortcuts and incompetent workmanship that has been a thorn in the side of our otherwise wonderful family home.
18 new windows

It's been almost twenty years, and we were due for a new roof. Compared to many others in our neighborhood, we have been lucky with ours, but we knew there was at least one bad spot causing issues with leaking into a back bedroom window, and it was time to deal with replacing the roof.
House wrap and siding

Which turned into a larger discussion on the desire to replace windows which were junk from day one. We've grown used to the fact that the windows are all drafty, poorly installed and hard to open, but it shouldn't be that way. And the proper way to replace windows is to do a full flanged replacement which requires the siding to be off the house. And we needed new siding anyway, and we also knew that the house hadn't been house wrapped. Which explains why it is as drafty as it is.
More windows, wrap and siding

So, as is often the case, a few small stones rolling down hill turns into an avalanche, and "we should do something about a new roof" turns into "oh what the hell, let's just replace the entire outside of the house".

Timing has been inconvenient in a way, with things all occurring around the holidays, but in some ways that is better because I am home more to be able to watch what they are doing. It's been an interesting process, and I am very happy with what I am seeing so far. The uncovering of hidden issues and damage has been minimal to this point (there were a few places where I was expecting worse), and things have been going pretty much according to plan.

As is generally the case when we have any kind of contractor in to do work, they are amused (but not surprised) by the things they uncover, and it's been no different this time around. Big gaps between panels. No flashing in spots. An apparent lack of caulking anywhere. Pretty much what I would expect from Pulte.

It will be nice when this is done. I will not dread a heavy rain. The kids will be able to open and close windows without a hydraulic jack. On a windy winter day there shouldn't be a cold breeze coming through every window and out of every electrical switch and socket. It'll be strange... Nice, but strange.