Sunday, December 27, 2009

Disney World - Days 1 to 3

Before the end of the year, I need to memorialize our Disney trip, while the memories and details are still fresh.

The basics of the trip were a Sunday to Sunday 8 day 7 night trip, with the intention of staying on the Disney property the whole time. In general, with the age and temperment of the kids, we were looking to do as much of the various parks as we could, knowing that we couldn't push the kids too hard. A warm forecast the first half of the week meant that we should be able to mix in pool time to wind down after time in the parks.

Sunday 12/13 - Day 1
We have booked a late morning flight on Southwest so that we do not have to get up at dawn in order to get to the airport. This is going to be a long enough week without having to start day 1 at 5am. With no desire to leave a car in the airport garage for 8 days, and not wanting to impose on anyone for a ride, a private car picks us up at 8am for the short ride to the airport to catch our 10:55am flight. It is about 40 degrees in Philly as we leave, and I know the forecast in Orlando is 80's for the first few days; we are all anxious for the warm weather. We get checked in and through security very quickly and arrive at the gate to wait. The girls are very excited about the flight, although both are also nervous. Grace has never flown, and Julia has not flown since she was about three or four, so she has no real memory of it.

Soon enough we are on the plane, take off, and Philadelphia drops away below us. Grace is mezmerized, and handles it like a trooper. Instead of being scared, they are both thrilled. The 2.5 hour flight to Florida is uneventful, and the girls are well behaved. Stepping off the plane, we are met by a blast of warm humid air, which feels great. We are going to be depending on Disney for everything on this trip and do not have a rental car. We find the Magical Express bus to Disney, and off we go. Part of the service at the deluxe class resorts is that Disney handles your baggage for you and delivers it right to your room without you ever seeing it or touching it. Being a worrier at heart, I am somewhat skeptical, but they do this for a living, right?

It's almost 3pm when we arrive at the Beach Club resort, and we all love the look of the place. It only takes a few minutes to get checked in and pick up our meal plan vouchers and other assorted paperwork. We have beaten our baggage to our room, as it was expected that we would, so we have some time to kill before the kids are able to swim, which is all they can talk about. We walk around the property, specifically checking out the pool, which is hard to describe, but is a series of interconnected "lagoons" and "streams", some of which have sand bottoms and "beaches". Very cool. Now the kids really want their bathing suits.

To stall, and since we haven't eaten much all day, we find a nice little bar in the hotel to grab sandwiches and drinks. Good food, but also the first sticker-shock moment of the trip. Disney certainly requires that you have a degree of emotional detachment from your money in order to not go insane. Hey, exorbitant as it is, we budgeted for it, right?

The rest of the day passed quickly, with luggage arriving, girls swimming, another light meal in there somewhere, and ready for bed. With all four of us in one room (two queen beds), I was concerned that nobody would sleep. It would necessitate that the girls be up somewhat later than they normally would, and Amp and I go to bed earlier than we normally would - make our schedules meet in the middle. On the first night, Julia was little congested and slept fitfully, which made it a little difficult for all but Grace, who can apparently sleep through a tornado...

All in all a good start.

Monday 12/14 - Day 2
Everyone was a bit tired from yesterday's travel and getting used to sleeping in the same room, so we let the kids sleep in before rousing them and getting them ready for a day at a park. Especially in deference to Grace, you pretty much need to start a Disney trip at Magic Kingdom, so after donuts and coffee in the hotel room, off we went. Everything looked beautiful with the holiday decorations, and the girls were very excited. I don't think Grace quite knew how to react to the size of everything.

We took things at a leisurely pace, and did much of the back part of the park, while also enjoying some of the stage shows and holiday themed street performers. In the Mickey's Toontown Fair section, Grace rode on her first rollercoaster, the Barnstormer, which is also the first rollercoaster that Julia ever went on when we were here in December of 2003.

The only downside to the day is that Julia is still not feeling one hundred percent, and we are worried that she might get worse before she gets better. She is able to keep up, but is not having as much fun as everyone else.

After leaving Magic Kingdom, we have time for an hour in the pool before having dinner at the Cape May Cafe in the hotel. Before turning in, we spend an hour or so strolling the boardwalk around the lagoon that contains our hotel, the Yacht Club, and the Boardwalk Inn. Bed by 10:20pm.

Tuesday 12/15 - Day 3
Julia is feeling mostly better today after a pretty good and pretty long night sleep, which is a great relief. Morning and afternoon are spent at Animal Kingdom, which is both Amp's and my favorite park.

High for the day was around 87 degrees, so after Animal Kingdom, everyone wanted to go back to the pool and relax. We ended up eating a simple dinner at the poolside grill.
The highlight of the day was the evening's Christmas party at Magic Kingdom. The lighting, music and fireworks were just spectacular, and the parade was a huge hit with the kids. Picture taking was difficult, but that's to be expected.

Two exhausted kids got to bed near midnight and fell asleep quickly. Yay!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas recap - 2009

Well, the kids made it through another one without bursting into flames. Much excitement, tearing of wrapping paper and squealing in delight. Good stuff. The girls were very pleased with their gifts. Julia got all things Pokemon, and Grace was very into girly things this year - makeup, hair stuff, etc...

On the food front (a critical component of the day), dinner was a simple yet classic herbed beef tenderloin roast with shallot and red wine reduction, green beans, and ridiculously rich scalloped potatoes, all washed down with a light chardonnay while cooking and a spicy red Vacqueyras while eating.

Personally, I got some nice clothes which I wanted very much, and a few books. On the history side, there was Michael Mallet's Mercenaries and Their Masters; Warfare in Renaissance Italy, and a reprint of F.L. Taylor's The Art of War in Italy, 1494-1529. Very much looking forward to digging into these. On the cookbook front (I love to cook and have a pretty nice cookbook collection), I received Jacques Pepin's More Fast Food My Way, and Madhur Jaffrey's From Curries to Kebabs, Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail. Pepin is my hero; he is a master of technique, and in recent years has put out a number of books that concentrate on simple good food, the kind of recipes that can be made on a weeknight. Several of his recipes from Fast Food My Way, the predecessor to this book, have become routine go-to recipes in our house. We also love Indian food (and need to make it more).

There is one other Christmas gift coming for me that I am very excited about but will likely not get here for another week or so. I will post pictures when it arrives.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays 2009

No, I have not dropped off the face of the earth. The family returned from a week in Disney World (Orlando Florida) last Sunday, and between that and the requisite (and rushed) Christmas preparations, things have been pretty hectic. I will get back to the blog over the holidays, and hope to have some time to paint at least a little bit in between glasses of wine. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the Lyons clan at Disney.

Tuesday evening. My girls at Magic Kingdom at night during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. The lighted castle was a sight to see, with the lighting colors rotating through a variety of pinks and purples. Spectacular fireworks later, of course.

Tuesday, Hollywood Studios. Julia and Grace were pulled out of the audience during the High School Musical 3 street show, and got to participate during one of the dance sequences.

Tuesday, also Hollywood Studios. Again, Julia and Grace got pulled out of the audience to do a little dancing as part of the Disney Pixar Block Party Parade, which is that park's big parade down the main street.

Monday, Magic Kingdom. Julia and Mom go for a ride on the Snow White Carousel.

Happy Holidays to everyone, of whichever type of holiday you choose to celebrate (or not). I hope the holiday season and the new year find you and your families happy and healthy. Cheers!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Miniatures Planning - HYW To Do List

I have everything in-house that I need to complete my base army, I just need to finish some painting and other miscellaneous tasks. Items needing completion:
  • 24 foot hobilars are primed and need painting. This will add 8 stands, or two units of 4.
  • 30 foot men at arms are going into a Fernando order that will go out this week. This will add 10 more stands (I base my foot knights at 3 per stand even though they are close order so that you can see the nice paint jobs better - quirky personal preference...).
  • 20 stands or so worth of archer stakes need to be made as a scratch building project.
  • Base painting and flocking needs to be completed.
  • A few specific banners need to be ordered from the Flag Dude.

From a pure quantity perspective, I should probably have more longbowmen, but I have 20 or so stands of Wars of the Roses militia longbows that can stand in if I need to put together a larger than usual game. Other than the anachronistic helmet here or there, it is hard to notice the difference in figs.

Again, I have everything I need to finish the French, I just need to complete the painting. Needing completion:
  • 30 foot men at arms are going into the Fernando order. With some of the command below, this will add 12 stands, or three units of 4.
  • 10 foot command are going into the Fernando order.
  • 30 pavisier spearmen need to be painted. I'll do these. With 2 command, this will add 8 more stands.
  • 18 or so mounted men at arms need painting. I'll do these as well. Six more stands.
  • Base painting and flocking needs to be completed.
  • A few specific banners need to be ordered from the Flag Dude.

For extra quantity here, I would add more men at arms (foot and mounted) if the mood struck, but they shouldn't be necessary for all but the largest game I would run.

Allied Troops
It's always nice to have an assortment of other troops to be able to add into games for variety beyond just the basic main sides, so to this point I have small contingents of Spanish, Germans and "generics". Needing completion:
  • 4 Spanish jinetes need painting to finish a pack. This will add two more stands.

Beyond this, I don't really need anything else, although I will probably do another pack of Spanish knights to get them 3 more stands and be able to do three units of 2, rather than the simple 3 stands I have now.

As far as buying more figs, if anything I would probably just buy a single pack of this or that (whatever struck my mood) on occasion in order to add a unit or two. This would be a nice position to be in, because it would allow me the flexibility to paint whatever seemed fun at the time rather than painting out of necessity.

Looking at it logically like this, it all seems very manageable, especially given that I am going to be sending out some of the work to contract painters.

Miniatures Planning - English Hundred Years War

Much like the prior post on the French, this is a muster of the English host. The picture shows the assembled masses, with the French muster in the distance. Everything on this side of the left to right road is part of this army.

In the front rank are 7 single leader figs, 4 single banner bearers and a general stand for King Edward III. One of the leaders is Edward Prince of Wales, the Black Prince. (most need flocking)
  • The left-most column is 12 stands of dismounted hobilars (need flocking).
  • The next two columns are 24 longbows (9 are complete, the rest need flocking).In the center are 17 Scots spearmen (need flocking).
  • Behind the Scots are 10 stands of Welsh longbowmen (bases need painting and flocking).
  • To the right of the Scots are 15 foot men at arms including general stands for the Black Prince (on foot), Warwick and Salisbury (need flocking).
  • On the right are 4 stands mounted men at arms.

In the far background and far right distance are some allied troops:

  • 3 German mounted men at arms plus a single leader figure (need flocking).
  • 8 spearmen in 2 blocks of 4 each (done). These are Scots figures but have shorter spears and were painted in 2 uniform blocks to represent mercenaries from wherever, or just generic spearmen.
  • Behind the pavises in the back are 8 stands of crossbows. These are representatives of a mass of crossbowmen from the "Liegnitz - Mongols in Europe" range that look so generic they tend to stand in as crossbowmen from whatever period I need. For later periods, Wars of the Roses crossbowmen serve the same purpose. I have not bothered to get crossbowmen from this specific period, and may or may not at some future point. Not a priority...
Well, it's off to "Brunch with Santa" soon for me and the gang, so goals and plans will have to wait for later, but at least this finishes documenting the current state of the HYW project.

One last picture - what the other half of my table looks like a the moment, backdrop removed. This is why I need a backdrop for pictures...

Miniatures Planning - French Hundred Years War

I suppose the first thing that needs to be done when contemplating the remainder of a project is to take a moment to take stock of where you are. With that in mind, I took down the France 1355 game, putting all the French on one side of the board and all of the English on the other. I then pulled out all remaining figs that weren't on the table, regardless of their state of completion. Only bare metal figs stayed off table. Everyone else mustered for review.

The picture at right is the result. Keep in mind that where named general stands and single leader figures have been made, I am doing the personalities for Poitiers (1356). General stands where noted have the correct banner, other banners are a mix of HYW flags from the Dansk website or Flag Dude. [links at right]

In the front is a general stand for King Jean. It needs one more fig and then flocking. Next to the King is a single stand carrying the Oriflamme sacred banner (needs flocking).

In the second rank is a priest stand and 4 single leaders and 3 more single banners. Some need re-basing, all need flocking.

In the "main body":

  • At left is a column of 10 stands of Breton bideaux light infantry (complete).
  • Next come three large blocks of pavisier spearmen, totalling 18 stands (complete).
  • In the center are three columns of dismounted men at arms, totalling 22 stands. These include general stands for the Dauphin Charles, the Duc de Bourbon, and the Comte de Brienne. (1 stand needs a banner, 3 need flocking).
  • At back left, behind the pavisiers and bideaux are 9 stands of militia infantry (need flocking).
  • At right are 9 stands of mounted men at arms (complete). This includes general stands for Marshal Arnoul Audrehem and Lord Douglas.

Behind the French right are the Spanish. They include:

  • 3 jinete light horse (need flocking).
  • 3 mounted men at arms (complete).
  • 10 light infantry (need base painting and flocking).

In my next post, I will catalog the English, as well as detailing my end goal and how I plan to get there.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wargames Terrain - Painting a Backdrop

One thing I have noticed as I have been taking pictures for these blog postings is the number of times there is clutter in the background. My gaming table is a 6' by 8' table that I built myself, with a raised lip around the edges (to hold in terrain boards etc) and shelving underneath for storage. Often for smaller games, I will clear off the near half of the table, making a 4' by 6' playing area, and leave the other half heaped with a multitude of stuff.

Functional, but not great for pictures. I decided I needed a backdrop for a view block, so tonight I taught myself how to paint a crude landscape. I have a largely unfulfilled interest in model railroading, which mainly consists of reading some of the magazines. At one point a few years ago, I picked up many of a series of instructional DVDs that Model Railroader put out. One of the things I remembered seeing was a multi part series on how to paint a basic backdrop. I found the DVDs, watched the two episodes on backdrops, and had a go at it.

The resulting backdrop is a spliced-together foamcore board 6 feet long and 20" high. Foamcore is basically two sheets of heavyweight cardstock sandwiched around a 3/16" foam center. The sky was painted first in a series of light blue shades getting lighter toward the top. I left some of the brushwork uneven to give the effect of a hazy sky without going for the puffy white cloud look. I then roughed in the rolling hills with various shades of olive green, brown and gray, blending clumsily as I went. Lastly, clumps of woods were added in by roughly dabbing in blotches of greenish-gray. The result is clumsy perhaps, and is certainly not fine art by any means, but I think it will serve its purpose well as a first effort. (I am already wondering how to paint in the hint of a little village nestled between two of the hills in the background - but that would probably be pushing my luck...).

All painting was done with cheap little bottles of acrylic craft paints from Michael's, a craft store chain (Folk Art brand paints at $1.29 per small bottle). I already had these paints, but probably wouldn't have had to spend more than $10-12 if I had been starting from scratch and purchased wisely. The whole project took less than 2 hours from beginning to end, and probably half that time was mulling over blended shades of paint... mixing... pondering... mixing...

The backdrop in place behind the remnants of the recent France 1355 game:

A wider shot showing the effect of dropping it down the center of my table, hiding the junk behind it:

I probably will not leave well enough alone, and will either try to make this one better, or do another one with what I have learned in doing this. Altogether, fun and useful. Hmmmmm. Maybe I could be a landscape painter... Ooooooh, shiny......

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Miniatures Planning - December 4, 2009

After letting some thoughts percolate for a while, and having gotten in a good Medieval Warfare game in the meantime, I have decided that my next project will be a two-pronged approach to complete both my Hundred Years War and Wars of the Roses armies.

I will work on finishing the HYW armies myself. Preliminary review would have the following still needing to be completed:
  • Make about 20 stands of archer stakes for my English.
  • Paint 30 English dismounted men at arms.
  • Paint 30-40 French dismounted men at arms.
  • Paint 30 French pavisier spearmen.
  • Paint 24 English foot hobilars.
  • Paint 4 Spanish jinetes.
  • Paint 18-20 French mounted men at arms.
  • Order specific banners from the Flag Dude (see link in Links section).
  • Finish flocking and seal coating all the bases.
  • Maybe make some more movement trays.

This would finish all the HYW fig stock I have on hand. I don't really need to buy anything else, so if I can get this painting done, I will be able to run a game that will pretty well fill my 8' x 6' table. As a bonus, many of these figures will be able to serve double duty in my upcoming Ottoman project, such as Nicopolis 1396, which included many western Europeans.

Finishing the War of the Roses project will be a partial cop out - I am in the process of prepping a batch of figures to send to Fernando Enterprises in Sri Lanka. This will primarily be retinue archers and billmen in specific livery colors. In the 2 months or so that that order will be in progress, I will try to complete my HYW painting. If I can keep to that time table, or close to it, I will be in a good position to paint the remainder of the WOR cavalry and leader figures myself in late winter/early spring 2010.

If all goes well and I give myself 3 months for each project, I should be done by the end of May 2010.

Battle Report - France 1355, Part 3 of 3

Situation end of turn 9. Casualties are beginning to mount for the English side, while 3 French foot men at arms units are advancing in echelon in the center (one is partly obscured behind the hobilar unit on the hill). English shooting continues to be miserable, with a penchant for going low on ammo. French crossbow fire is outdueling the longbows. In the foreground, the English cavalry losses continue to mount, with two of the three units near losing a stand and fragmented as well.

Situation end of turn 10 (below). The calm before the storm. The English have continued to edge backwards to form a better line on the second set of hills, while the French take the opportunity to spend their orders organizing themselves for the final push to come.

Turn 11. The French onslaught. The French, having gotten organized in the prior turn, launch an all out assault all along the line, and in a display of fine dice rolling, have won every melee. The English are being pushed back, the French are following up, and the last couple of uncommited French foot units are coming up in support. With no remaining reserves to speak of, the end has come for the English. Nothing remains but for the Black Prince to order the general retreat and save what he can for another day.

I think the game served its purpose - Dave and Ryan had a good introduction to the rules, and I had the opportunity to work on some of the finer details. There were a number of things I left out for simplicity, some things I flat out did wrong, and some nuances we missed. Most were minor. The bigger ones were:
  • I purposely ignored the option of going "Frenzied", which would have helped the French cavalry especially, as irregulars (French knights) can attempt to go frenzied, while trained troops (including English knights) cannot.
  • We did Retreats wrong, which is an easy fix, but changed the way some melees worked out. Basically, we got the retreat part right and the pursuit part wrong, which allowed units to get away from being stuck in close combats that they were losing when they likely would not have been able to.
  • In a case of bringing baggage along from another rule set, we mistakenly played that units moving more than half cannot shoot. In reality, any amount of movement incurs the same penalty (a +1 die roll modifier) but does not prevent shooting. This would have helped the English throughout the game, as adjusting their lines caused their longbowmen to lose turns of shooting when they shouldn't have.

All in all, a fun game, and has decided for me what my immediate future plans are. More on that in the next post.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Battle Report - France 1355, Part 2 of 3

Turn 5 (below) saw the consolidation of the respective armies' positions, with the English setting up a defense and the French preparing to come to grips. The cavalry battle continues to rage in the foreground, with additional English mounted men at arms trying to hold off the more numerous French. With the French being handled brainlessly, they are wracking up more losses than the English, and are in danger of losing their numerical superiority. In the center, the longbowmen holding the central hill decide that discretion is the better part of valor, and beat a hasty retreat from the advancing French foot men at arms. The men at arms gladly advance to take the hill without a fight. A unit of foot hobilars moves up to block the men at arms, but for the time being, the hill belongs to the French. In the distance, Breton light infantry advance out of the woodlot to test the defenses on the far flank. In keeping with his horrible shooting, it was somewhere around this time in the battle when the aforementioned Breton light infantry were Arrow Barraged by Ryan's longbows at close range. He need 8 or less on a d10 to hit, and rolling four dice came away with 4,9,9,10, for one lousy hit (and went out of ammo in the process).

End of turn 6 is shown below. The cavalry battle in the foreground is going well for the English at this point, having sent a few French units fleeing. With more French in the second line, the English grip their lances a little tighter and wait for the counterattack. Elsewhere on the field, there was much shooting, or in the English case, much missing. In the center, the valiant hobilar unit threw itself into the French men at arms, hoping to buy enough time for a more solid defense to be organized behind them. The fates smiled on the brave English, who fought the French tin cans to a draw, clogging up the middle for another turn. Time was not looking like it was on the English side however, as more blocks of French men at arms and spearmen were converging on the English lines.

Turn 7 (below) saw the tide in the cavalry battle began to go against the English as the greater French numbers began to wear them down. In the center, strong units of French dismounted men at arms were closing fast.

The situation at the end of turn 8 is shown below. Due to time constraints, this is the last turn Dave and Ryan were able to play, although part 3 of 3 to be posted soon has another three turns that I played solo the next day. As can be seen in this close up of the center, French men at arms are driving back the English, with more coming up in support. It is fair to say that the ineffective shooting of the English longbows was a key to the French success to this point. Instead of being weakened in any substantial way by longbow fire, the French men at arms were charging into the English lines virtually unscathed. The English conversely had been getting plinked away at with some success by the crossbowmen in French employ.

Tomorrow I will try to post the conclusion of this game, along with a recap of what we did wrong (it was a training exercise after all), what I intentionally left out of the game/rules for simplicity's sake the first time around, and what we learned. All in all a great way to spend a Friday evening. Thanks Dave and Ryan!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Battle Report - France 1355, Part 1 of 3

The day after Thanksgiving, Dave, Ryan and I got together for a fairly impromptu Hundred Years War game using Saga's Medieval Warfare Rules. I have played the rules at conventions and like them a lot. I have never taken the time to learn them as thoroughly as I should, however, as it is easy to let the gamemasters at the cons lead you through things. One of the main purposes of this game, other than to get together and push some figs around, was to work on getting us up to speed on the rules, with the hope of bigger things to come.

As an aside, thanks to Jeff Ball, Bruce Taylor, Perry Gray, and the late Terry Gore for all the wonderful games at the HMGS shows over the years. I would strongly urge gamers to support Saga - good games and good guys!

I decided that we would do a Hundred Years War battle between the English and the French. For purposes of this as a learning exercise, I made the scenario a meeting engagement, which would probably be unusual for the period, but would work well for our intended purpose. My thinking was that it would be good to have a few turns where Dave and Ryan were getting used to the basics of the Orders system and maneuvering their units around without having to worry too much about the combat mechanics. Dave would command the French, Ryan would command the English, and yours truly would assist Dave by commanding the French cavalry (which would consist intentionally of marching my cavalry onto the battlefield and hurling them at the nearest English with no prep or planning - hey, what could be more historical!).

The initial set up is shown below, from the French side. A French infantry command is moving onto the field to the right, and a second infantry command is moving through the village in the near center. The third French command, under Audrehem, Marshal of France, would be composed almost entirely of mounted men at arms, and would arrive in the following turns left of the village. The lead elements of the English army, under command of Edward Prince of Wales, crown prince of England, "The Black Prince", can be seen moving to occupy the central hill in the middle distance.

Situation end of turn 1, from the English side, is shown below. The French, showing blatant disregard for English archery, are pouring onto the field as quickly as possible in column. Mercenary crossbowmen lead the advance of the French left (from this view), while more crossbowmen and pavisiers pound up the road in the center. Dave is gambling that the mass targets of being in single stand column are worth the risk in order to contest the central hill as soon as possible. English longbowmen deploy to cover the hill while Scots spearmen move up in support. In an occurance that will become comically repetitive before the night is over, English archery is ineffective.

Situation end of turn 2, from the English side, is shown below. English longbowmen have begun forming a battle line anchored on the central hill, while the Italian mercenary crossbowmen in French employ advance in swarms, pavises in tow. French infantry support in the form of dismounted men at arms and pavisiers continue to pour onto the field. The lead elements of the French mounted nobility, led by Marshal Audrehem himself (yay me!), can be seen approaching from the upper right. The Duke of Suffolk, commanding the English advance guard, sends word to the Black Prince to advance with all haste. English archery is ineffective, to Ryan's chagrin.

Situation end of turn 3 is shown below (English to the left). It is clear that the battle for the central hill will dominate the attention of both commanders. The English have formed a solid line, while the French have their hired crossbowmen at the fore, pavises in place, to try to duel with the longbowmen. The French foot continue to arrive and form up for the inevitable mad rush at the English. The lead elements of French men at arms hurl themselves wildly at a large block of Scots spearmen, with predictable results. Pointy sticks 1, horse riding tin cans 0. Ryan shoots again and...misses...a lot. A unit of English men at arms can be seen at lower left.

Situation end of turn 4 below (English to the left). At the bottom of the picture, the French men at arms insist on continuing to charge everything in sight, regardless of the wisdom of doing so. Results are predictably bloody to both sides, but more so to the French (this was actually intentional insofar as it was both historical and really fun!). In the center, the French foot mass for an assault on the hill, a fight that will take many lives in the ensuing turns. French crossbowmen continue to peck away at the English, while the English longbowmen miss everything in sight. A clear pattern has developed at this point that Ryan will win every close combat random die roll and continue to be unable to hit ANYTHING while shooting.
I will post part 2 of 3 as soon as I can. In retrospect, there were some things that I was intentionally skipping over in the rules in order to simplify things, and some things that we clearly did wrong (or just didn't know better). I will recap all of this at the end. The important thing is that me, my brother and my nephew were having a few beverages of choice and having fun spending some quality time together.
Maybe in part 2, the English will be able to hit the broad side of a barn while shooting. Or maybe not, Ryan...
On reviewing this post, a few things are obvious. First, I need to finish the bases on these stands - simple green paint looks ugly in good resolution photos. Second, the flags carried by many of the English units, from the Flag Dude (see favorite links), are so much nicer than my French flags printed off the internet. Lastly, I need a backdrop for photos so that you don't see the mess that is the other half of my gaming table...yuck. Amateur hour!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Miniatures - What Comes Next? 11/24/2009

So I am at a bit of a crossroads. What to do next? There is a fantastic blog out there by James Roach that has been an eye opener for me, insofar as his approach seems to be the antithesis of mine. His approach on projects seems to be to decide what to do next and then go at it full bore until complete. Judging from his blog recaps, some of these projects are a year and a half or more in the execution.

My projects, on the other hand, tend to involve jumping into something new with relatively little forethought, getting partway done, and then becoming enamored of some new thing. Ooooh, shiny.......

To recap my current projects/periods that I would not consider complete (in order of relative completeness). I will try to distinguish between unpainted figs I have already bought and those cases where I don't even own the figs yet.
  • Vikings are a smallish army that are fundamentally done but have 40 or so stock figures that I should finish just to be complete. If I were feeling ambitious, I should probably add 2 or 3 bags more figures for bulk in order to be able to do a larger game than I can now.
  • Normans are a fairly large army, but do have a few units left to paint (less than a hundred figures). I think I may do the 60 remaining spearmen as Crusaders rather then regular Normans.
  • Mongols. I have only one bag of auxiliary spearmen in stock left to paint, but I really need some more quantity for these guys, especially of heavy cavalry (non-horse archers).
  • Wars of the Roses. I have a good sized collection, but also have a few hundred unpainted figs of various kinds, especially retinue troops and cavalry.
  • Hundred Years War. The English and French armies have grown to pretty good size over the last year or so, but still have a ways to go. This is probably less a question of needing more painted units to run a pretty big game, and more about still having a lot of unpainted figs. One nice thing about this is that the extra figures can be useful in the Ottoman project I have begun as well (see below).
  • Ottomans, including eastern European opponents. I have begun this project, which has been of interest to me for many years, by having a few bags of figs painted in my last Fernando Enterprises order. The only completed components of these armies are a unit of Janissary archers, two units of Ottoman archers, a unit of Akinji horse archers, and a unit of Hungarian horse archers. I have probably 10-12 bags of various figs for this ready to go.
  • Renaissance Italian Wars. I have a growing interest in this period but do not know nearly as much about it yet. I have bought a bunch of figures, but have painted only a few leader figures myself. I do have a bunch of Landsknechts that I had painted. Any time I look at these I want more!
These are just the medieval and renaissance periods. This leaves out gunpowder, ancients and anything in 15mm.

If I had half a brain, I would pick something to complete and plow through it. I will let you know what I decide...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Miniatures Gallery - Punic Wars

Andy has been nice enough to comment on a couple of my blog posts, and I see that his profile lists Punic Wars as an area of interest, so here are a few pictures of some of my Punic War stuff. All are Old Glory 25mm, mostly painted by Fernando enterprises, but some by me...

All are based for European parts of the war, and not for Africa.

Carthaginian citizen infantry.

Celtic gaul heavy cavalry.
Spanish cavalry.

I haven't used these figs in a long time; maybe this will be the push I need to get them out and use them!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Random Thoughts

I have recently blogged on my not getting peoples' fascination with Facebook and Twitter, yet I spend time writing these blog posts that maybe half a dozen people read. Or maybe less than half a dozen. Or maybe a lot less than half a dozen. Or maybe just me. Hmmmm.

Also wondering how many of the following need to be true to qualify you for a midlife crisis (very mild variety):

  • Wondering where you hairline is going.
  • Wondering when your babies became real people.
  • Realizing that you have a fondness for the "good old days".
  • Wondering where your career is going.
  • Wondering what your golden years will be like (and hoping that you have golden years).
  • Trying to remember what you had for breakfast.
  • Realizing that somewhere along the way, you lost your immortality.
  • Wondering when the music you grew up to became classic rock.
  • Not being able to identify any music created in the last 10-15 years.
  • Wondering why your favorite athletes from your childhood are (a) in the hall of fame, and (b) look really old now.
  • Calculating how far you are beyond the midpoint of average American male life expectancy.

Oh boy. Corvette, here I come!

Daily Nugget - November 19, 2009

In the terminology I share with a friend of mine, a nugget is one of the nice little things that make you happy over the course of a day; things that you might otherwise overlook if you weren't making a point of being aware of them. Nuggets make life worth living, and remind you of all the little things that collectively make us happy. They are a piece of pure joy that you can anchor yourself on. Today was difficult, but it had a nugget late in the day. Generally, nuggets just happen on their own, but if you try, sometimes you can create them...

Before herding the kids upstairs for bath and bed, I put Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl on the stereo, cranked it up, and all four of us danced around the family room like lunatics. My two brown-eyed girls and one green-eyed girl.

That's a nugget.

Currently Reading - November 18, 2009

I finished Philip Roth's The Humbling last night. This short little book seems to be getting very mixed reviews, and I can see why. Roth, who is well into his seventies, seems to be focusing on themes of aging, loss, legacy, and sex with younger women, none of which seems unreasonable to me, I suppose. I am no prude by any means, but the specific sexual content of this one seemed a bit weird and gratuitous. Without going into detail, my main impression of this book is that it was finely crafted for what it is, but it lacked any real substance and impact. It felt to me like this was more of an outline for a much larger work rather than a complete work on its own merit, and the white spaces left for the reader to fill in were too much to ask.

Of Roth's recent works, I liked Everyman and Indignation better. Exit Ghost I have intentionally not read, because I want to read the Zuckerman books in order and I would need to read The Anatomy Lesson and The Prague Orgy before this...

All in all, given that this little tidbit can probably be read in little more than one solid uninterrupted hour, it is worth a read. Some people loved it. If nothing else, it is an interesting view into the aging mind of one of our great writers. 3 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Miniatures Plans

OK, all this reading has to stop, and I need to get back to some hobby stuff.

Fall In was a big disappointment in some ways, but that is a story for another day. The biggest project I need to get done in the short term is basing figures. I have a bunch of figures that need to be put on bases, and then dozens of stands that have been based but the bases haven't been flocked, so they aren't really done. At Fall In, I stopped by the Litko booth and checked out their bases. I have not used them before. They have bases in various thicknesses of plywood and other kinds of stock, and have many "standard" sizes. Anything that is not a standard size can be custom ordered. One nice thing about the plywood bases (as compared to Gale Force 9's masonite) is that they are a pale wood, and therefore the bottoms of the bases can be written on and still be readable, which I normally do.

My typical basing is on basswood strips from Midwest Products. For 25mm foot figures, I cut 2'x1" stock strips into 60mm lengths. I base all of my foot on these 60mm x 1 inch bases, regardless of whether they are close, loose or skirmish order. At one point, I had started to use the standard 60x20mm bases for close order troops, but with scale creep the figures are just too big for these. For cavalry, I take larger basswood stock sheets and cut out bases that are 60x47 or 60x48mm. Again, the de-facto standard 60x40mm cavalry bases are just not large enough for today's oversized 25/28mm figs.

Anyway, to make my life easier, I ordered 100 infantry bases of 60x25mm (which approximates 1 inch deep) and 100 cavalry bases of 60x50mm from Litko. I got an email that they have been shipped, and I will be diving into basing the remainder of my in-process stuff as soon as possible.

As an aside, I recently got an order of contract painted figures back from Fernando Enterprises in Sri Lanka. I have used them for a bunch of years now and have always been happy with their price and quality. This order consists of a bunch of single bags of odds and ends from various medieval periods. All are Old Glory 25mm. I will post pictures as I get them based and finished up.

  • 30 Ottoman foot archers
  • 30 Eastern European peasant archers
  • 30 Welsh archers
  • 30 Wars of the Roses militia billmen
  • 30 Hundred Years War Spanish slingers and javelinmen
  • 10 Hungarian horse archers
  • 10 Ottoman akinci horse archers

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Things I Don't Get

Cranky old goat warning!

In no particular order:
  • The Rolling Stones, The Who and Queen. Never got 'em back in the day. Still don't.
  • Getting falling down drunk before a sporting event and then stumbling into the arena to watch the game.
  • Facebook. OK, I get it just a little bit. After being cajoled into opening an account a couple years ago, I have reconnected in a marginal way with a few people from all the way back in high school. That's the one good thing. Everything else I don't get. Silly games and apps. Poking people and sending them virtual gifts/drinks/whatever. What someone is having for dinner. I'm not a particularly social creature. Which brings me to...
  • Twitter. Don't get this even a little bit. "It's 5:13pm and I'm southbound on I-95 near the Walt Whitman bridge." Great. "Watching the Flyers game on TV." Good to know.
  • Soccer. After the age of ten or twelve.
  • High School Reunions. This goes hand in hand with Facebook Friend requests. I was only vaguely acquainted with most of these people when we were in high school. Why would they want to be my friend 25 years later? We weren't friends then. There are only a few people from high school who I would want to see after all these years, and it wouldn't be while surrounded by a bunch of total strangers who can't let go of the early 1980's. Cue Springsteen's Glory Days...
  • Nascar. 3 hours of left turns (ok, I know they turn left and right several times a year). The same 10 guys have all the talent and all the money. The other 30 guys can't win. The only purpose the other guys serve is to occasionally crash into one of the talented guys, knocking him out of a race (the fickle hand of fate, automotive style).
  • Clams, mussels and oysters. Who in the world ever thought of trying to eat one of these little phlegm balls in the first place?
  • Sushi. Man has tamed fire. Use it.

Currently Reading - November 17, 2009

I finished John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River a couple days ago, having plowed through the last 300+ pages in three days. I really enjoyed this book. It was constructed in an unusual way, in that you were always told what was going to happen at the beginning of a section, and then the story unfolded so that you would see how you got to where you already knew you were going to end up. I didn't mind this at all. Familiar Irving themes and symbols were present in abundance, and there were many very strong parallels between his own life and career and that of the story's writer character (which he seemed to be playing up and having fun with). Some Amazon reviewers found the book to be repetitious, derivative, self-serving, etc, and I can't deny that their complaints have some validity, but I still like it very much. It is typical Irving, but very good Irving; I don't think being typical of yourself is necessarily a bad thing. Despite the 554 pages, I never felt like I was bogging down and having trouble wanting to keep going, which happens every now and then (and with much shorter books than this). I would give it 4 stars out of 5.

Wolf Hall is on my night stand, but I couldn't help myself from starting Philip Roth's The Humbling last night. It is a very small 140 pages, and I will probably finish it tonight. It's a novella, really. The book is postcard sized, with medium sized typeface spaced "liberally" shall we say. I bet if you typeset this book in a normal font on a normal sized page it would be 75 pages long...and difficult to sell for $22.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Currently Reading - November 12, 2009

Status update. Still working my way through Last Night at Twisted River by John Irving. I am about 240 pages in, and enjoying it (which leaves me about 315 pages to go). As I have said before, I have always liked Irving's novels, but missed many of them in the "dark years" when I wasn't reading much but history.

When finishing a book and pondering what to start next, I admit to having a bit of a prejudice against big books. When looking at an Irving novel, or Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs, or Rushdie's Satanic Verses, or any of the other larger books I would like to read, I almost invariably end up saying to myself "I could read 2 or 3 shorter books in the time it would take me to finish that monster", and end up selecting something else. Which is true, but misses an important point. In reading, as in many other things in life, it is the journey that is important, not how many finish lines you can cross, nor how fast.

With that in mind, I picked up Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (this year's Man Booker prize winner) today at the bookstore, and plan to read it next. Compared to Last Night in Twisted River, it is a lightweight at only 500 or so pages.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Live Your Love

A couple of months ago I wrote about living life to the fullest, and how I wanted to do better at this. Something tragic happened to an acquaintance of mine recently that serves as a brutal reminder of how important this is.

Live Your Love.

Surround yourself with the people you love, in the places you love, doing the things you love. Let the people you love know it every chance you get. Trust that everything else will take care of itself. And even if it doesn't, at least you can take comfort that you have done the best you could with what you had in the time that was allotted for you.

Goal for 2009 #3 (Canoeing)

Dave and I have periodically discussed the idea of getting out on the Brandywine and doing some canoeing for years now, but it hasn't ever happened. By May 31st, 2010 at the latest, I will pay the $62 to the local outfitter in north Wilmington that will drop you up at Brandywine Picnic Park and pick you up 4 hours later at Thompson's Bridge in Brandywine State Park. $62 is for one canoe (not per person), all equipment, and shuttling to and from. Seems like a bargain, and having been doing some reading on canoeing in Pennsylvania, the Brandywine is baby water that is perfect for a newbie.

I would very much like to knock this goal off sooner rather than later, and hope to find a way to do this before we get completely into winter. In many instances, winter and early spring are the best times to canoe many of the local streams and smaller rivers due to the typically higher water levels than what you would find in summer and early fall. Comments on the Brandywine are that it generally doesn't have an adequate water flow or level in the summer for real canoeing, but that doesn't stop the tour outfitters from "letting the novices grind their canoes down the stream all summer long."

Return to Hawk Mountain, November 9, 2009

With the forecast for a nice day, and Leo unable to make it, Dave and I decided to do a day at Hawk Mountain. Dave had not been yet this year, and while I had been there only a week and a half ago, I had no issue with going back, as there were pieces of the more difficult trails that I had not done, and the bird watching was relatively bad the previous trip.

I picked Dave up at around 8:20am, and we were on the road shortly after, arriving at about 9:45 (with one stop for drinks and snacks). We went to South Lookout first for a quick look around. The day proved to be a lot cloudier than forecast, and the visibility was not great, with a significant haze out over the valley; it was warm though. Another big difference was the fall foliage: a week and a half ago, most of the leaves were still on the trees and the colors were good (but not at peak). By today, most of the leaves were on the ground, with only a few trees hanging onto theirs. With all the leaves on the ground, footing would be a little more uncertain, as you could easily slip on them if you weren't careful. It was also difficult to tell sometimes on the rocky sections whether there was solid ground under the leaves, or just a leaf-filled hole.

We stayed at South Lookout for just a few minutes, enough to see that there was more bird activity. We decided to hike down to the River of Rocks trail, do the full loop around to the eastern Golden Eagle connector trail and then up to the Skyline trail for the hike over to the North Lookout. We would lunch at North Lookout and spend some time (hopefully) watching birds.
The scenery was definitely different without the leaves, and visibility down in the woods was much farther without the view obstructions. It was a nice easy walk, mostly downhill or near level until we looped around and started up toward the Skyline trail. In my extremely limited hiking career, I have not had to go up many steep inclines, and the last portion of the Golden Eagle connector certainly counts as steep, at least in my book. Looking at a topographic map, you climb about 700 feet in 3/4 of a mile, which much of the worst of it being in the last part. My legs are pretty good, but my cardio/lungs are not very good at this point. It was a different feeling. With a few brief stops for a breather, I was sweating, breathing hard and my heart rate was up nicely. I felt like I was doing ok until just a hundred or so yards from the top, when we stopped for one last breather and I had a sudden feeling like I was going to throw up. It passed fairly quickly, and I am happy not to have to confess that indignity. We stayed at that spot for a few extra minutes before completing the climb. I was perfectly happy for a good solid 5 minute break at the top, and was wondering if I had pushed myself a little too hard. Perhaps I did, but I began feeling good again shortly, and we continued west along the Skyline Trail, climbing the last rock face hand over hand and popping out on the North Lookout. I like the Skyline trail very much; I enjoy the boulder hopping and rock climbing, and I seem to be pretty sure-footed.
There was a decent sized crowd gathered, and a fairly steady stream of hawks flying across the far end of the valley. Dave and I sat down, had a sandwich, and had a while to relax and chat. The people watching aspect of spending some time at this spot was as interesting to me as the bird watching. There were quite an assortment of people. There were two HMS employees (the official spotters), as well as several other apparently knowledgeable people and a number of apparent novices (like me). Among the knowledgeable ones, there was one guy who seemed to need to identify and call out as many birds as he could before the spotters did so. I guess he saw it as some sort of competition or something. Or perhaps I simply lack the proper amount of reverence. At one point someone nearby said something along the lines of "if those birds got closer we could tell whether they were males or females". My comment to Dave was "if those birds got closer we could shoot them and eat them for lunch." I don't think anyone heard me, which is probably just as well.
Side note: Looking north into the adjoining valley, you can see the little town of New Ringgold nestled between the next few ridges. The Little Schuylkill river (a stream really) comes down from Tamaqua, through New Ringgold, comes down toward the base of Hawk Mountain, then veers around to the west before heading on to Port Clinton and beyond. A canoeing book I have says this stretch of the Little Schuylkill is perhaps the nicest canoe run in the whole Schuylkill drainage. I now have a strong desire to canoe it...
By around 2:30, we packed it in, headed back to the car and on home (with a quick stop to gawk at Cabela's, an amazingly huge outdoors store). All in all a very nice day.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Currently Reading - November 3, 2009

I dove into John Irving's new novel Last Night in Twisted River over the weekend. I've always enjoyed Irving's books, having read probably his first 6 or so, but haven't read any of his stuff over the last 15-20 years. Part of the issue, I suppose, is that his books are generally very long. This one is 554 pages (which is maybe short for him). I have heard of him being referred to as a modern American Dickens, and that's probably not a bad description, as his books do have that kind of scope and scale. I am about 90 pages in, and probably have the better part of two weeks in front of me. Good so far, and already showing his propensity for random acts of fate dramatically affecting peoples' lives. In an Irving novel, you can be walking down the street and have a piano drop out of the sky and land on you...and usually do.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary - October 29, 2009

Plans Change
The target date for this day trip was Wednesday 10/28, but a rainy weather forecast had us push to Thursday. Leo would need to be done by about 1:30, but if we got an early enough start, or if Dave and I took a separate car, we would be fine. As it turned out, one of Dave's girls came down with the flu on Wednesday, so we found out Wednesday night that Dave couldn't make it. Leo and I decided to soldier on alone.

The final plan was to meet at a convenience store parking lot just east of Reading at 8:15 or 8:30, then ride together to Hawk Mountain, arriving at around 9:30. This would give us 4 hours for hiking and bird watching.

The Trip
The meet and the drive up went off without a hitch, and we were in the parking lot by shortly after 9:30. Very few cars were in the lot, presumably due to the gray overcast day. Temperatures were in the low 50's with a nice stiff breeze, so the wind chill on the ridges must have been in the 40's. Dressed properly, it felt fine, although a lightweight pair of gloves wouldn't have been bad for the first part of the day.

First stop was the visitor center where I purchased a $40 family membership that will be good until spring of 2011. I could have done a one-day for $5, but it seemed like a good idea to support the Sanctuary by buying more than I will probably need... Sometimes it is about more than the money, and I am fortunate in many ways, so I want to try to support some of these organizations, like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Keystone Trails Association.

[Me on South Lookout (showing my best side - the back of my head!)]

Leaving the visitor center and heading up the short trail to the South Lookout, there are a few people around, but not many. At the South Lookout, we are the only ones there other than a HMS intern from Palestine, who is friendly and chats with us for a little while. Not many birds thus far, and no other people for the moment. The weather is interesting in that there is a completely unbroken gray cloud ceiling as far as the eye can see in every direction with no sun whatsoever. Under the cloud ceiling, there is tremendous visibility, and we can see for many many miles (more than the apparent haze in the photos would indicate).

[View from South Lookout. South slope of Kittatinny Ridge on the left, northern slope of Pinnacle on the right. "Donat" (?) in the center distance. The River of Rocks are the gray spots in the middle of the valley. The bottom of the picture gives some idea of how far the valley drops away from the ridge.]

After maybe 10 minutes at the South Lookout, we set out for the North Lookout, where we arrived after a slight detour to the overlook called "the Slide". It is decidedly breezy here at 1521 feet exposed elevation. There is only one other pair of people here, along with an intern from Argentina and the official spotter, an HMS research biologist. We sit and chat with the intern for a bit. The only bird activity is a few scattered sightings way off in the distance. The biologist, with the aid of many years of experience and a high powered scope, calls out "Golden Eagle on the south slope of 1". In Hawk Mountain terms, the view along Kittatinny Ridge to the east shows 5 distinct bumps, numbered for ease of reference 1 (south) through 5 (north). The Pinnacle is on the far south side of the view east, and "Donut" is a small mountain on the far side of the middle of the valley in between "1" and Pinnacle. In layman's terms, the golden eagle siting could best be describe to the naked eye as "tiny black speck on the horizon moving from left to right." But hey, technically I saw a Golden Eagle, right?

[Official spotting post on North Lookout. Pinnacle visible on the right in the distance.]

I am a little worried about my knee flaring up at this point, but wandering over to the east face of the North Lookout and seeing the climb down the rock face to get to the Skyline Trail, I can't resist, and we set off climbing down onto the trail labelled as "most difficult" on the trail map. After reaching the bottom of the climb, we set off east on the Skyline Trail, which I find to be a lot of fun because of the broken ground and all the rock hopping. The photos below show the view back up the climb down from North Lookout, as well as a typical stretch of trail on the ridge top, with the ever-present rocks and boulders.

After a short time on the Skyline Trail, we take a right on the Golden Eagle connector trail heading south and drop steeply down into the valley. At one point during our descent, we stop in a boulder filled gully and can hear the unmistakeable sound of running water. A mountain stream is under our feet, buried in the ground under the rocks. We cannot see it, but due to the amount of rain over the last couple of days, we can clearly hear it. At the bottom of the connector trail, we turn left on the River of Rocks trail and head east. Our goal is to do the shorter of the two RoR loops, cutting across between the two large boulder fields and then heading back up the ridge (west then north) to South Lookout.

[The River of Rocks. Geology cool beyond words for a Flatlander like me.]

The River of Rocks trail was a delight, with more of the never ending rocks, chipmunks, a grove of small white pines (only 6-8 feet tall), and of course the River of Rocks itself. Standing out amongst the boulders, we could hear the underground stream again. By now we didn't have a whole lot of extra time, so we headed back uphill to the South Lookout. On the way, there were many beautiful things to see, including a mature thicket of 12-15' tall Rhododendrons.

[Rhododendron thicket.]

The final ascent of the ridge was the hardest part of the day, although not bad in the overall scheme of things. It was really the only time I felt winded and felt a burn in my thighs. A highlight of the climb was a nicely crafted stone stairway built into the hillside, which was a lot of effort for somebody at some time in the past.

When we got back to South Lookout, we sat and watched for birds for another 10-15 minutes, but then had to go.

Riding home in the car afterwards, I am more excited than ever. It was a very bad bird watching day, but being outdoors in general was terrific, and the hiking was great. The knee that bothered me at Ridley Creek last weekend gave me absolutely no trouble at all, and I pushed it much harder today than I did then, with all the climbing and rock-hopping. From a physical standpoint, nothing bothered me at all. Feet, ankles, legs, knees, hips; all were perfectly fine. My gear seems fine, and the additional clothing I have bought for moisture wicking, layering, etc have all proven their worth already. Most importantly, I am perhaps not in as bad physicial shape as I might have guessed. I certainly do not have the cardio conditioning or the leg stamina for steep climbs that I would like to have, but frequent rests can help with that, and if I keep this up it will get better over time. I am fairly confident that I can hold my own on day trips of this nature.
This fulfills Goal #2 for 2009 - go to Hawk Mountain. I am actually getting some things done! Now I need a few more goals for the rest of this year...

Currently Reading - October 30, 2009

I finished Molly Gloss' 1989 novel The Jump-Off Creek last night. I really enjoyed this one very much. It is the story of a widow from Pennsylvania who sells off all of her possessions and goes west to homestead by herself in the Oregon territory in the 1890's. It is very well written, and has a good plot to go along with being very evocative of time and place. The ending is somewhat predictable, but you could call it inevitable just as easily. There were a number of very well crafted characters, some major and some minor, and my interest was kept at a high level throughout. I will be looking into what else Molly Gloss has written. 4.5 stars out of 5.

This is also my fourth "new" author, completing 2009 goal #1.

I need to decide what to read next. I may dive into John Irving's new 554 page novel, Last Night in Twisted River. Or I might bail out and read something shorter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Currently Reading - October 27, 2009

I finished Maile Meloy's story collection Half in Love a couple nights ago, and really enjoyed it. Her stories were simply written, easy to read, and very enjoyable. And I certainly don't mean simple in a bad way. There are definitely some writers who seem to be trying overly hard with extensive vocabularies, complicated structuring, etc, and while this can be good, at other times it makes for a read that seems more like work than entertainment. In this case, simple was effective. I have a brand new book of her stories titled Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, and it will be interesting to see how she has developed over the intervening years.

This counts as "new writer" book #3 out of the 4 I wanted to read by year end, so I am on target to blow that modest goal out the water.

Last night I started what would be book #4 to complete the goal: The Jump-Off Creek by Molly Gloss. This novel was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner award a bunch of years ago, and the story sounded interesting. It is about a woman who goes out into the semi-wilderness of Oregon (back in the old days) to homestead by herself. I am about 50 pages in, but the writing is crisp, plot is moving along, and there are a bunch of good characters being developed. I am liking this one very much so far, and I would guess that the remaining 150 or so pages will go by very quickly.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ridley Creek State Park, Oct 25, 2009

...or, I Hiked and It Didn't Kill Me.

[Apologies in advance about the smudged pictures - I didn't realize until after we were done that the lens of my otherwise reliable digital camera was badly smudged on one side]

With the weather forecast for this coming Wednesday looking iffy, and being anxious to get out and hike somewhere, I called Dave this morning and told him that I was thinking of heading over to Ridley Creek State Park for a while. The day was looking nice from a weather perspective, with highs expected in the low sixties, and the leaves were very colorful in the woods behind my house. Dave said he had been thinking the same thing, and we agreed to meet at parking area #9 at 12:30 and kill a few hours.

I arrived at about 12:20 and got my shoes on, threw a few snacks and drinks into my day pack, and waited for Dave to arrive. I was wearing shorts, a poly short sleeve shirt as a breathable base layer and a t-shirt. I had a fleece vest in my pack, more for bulk than out of any need, and figured I would be ditching the t-shirt soon. I would be carrying a single trekking pole, more for fun than necessity. As a kid in the woods around home, I always liked picking up a walking stick, so why not...

While waiting for Dave, I admit to being a little apprehensive. I've spent way too much of my adult life sitting behind a desk or on a couch, and wasn't sure how my legs would react to even a modest bit of fairly easy hiking. Not worried; just a little apprehensive.

Dave arrived promptly at 12:30 and after a few minutes of small talk, off we went. He knows the park pretty well and has hiked most of it, so I said go wherever you want at whatever pace you want and I'll try to stay behind you. The goal was to fill about 3 hours.

The First Third - Lot #9 to Sycamore Mills
We went down the blue trail from parking area #9 to the creek itself, and then turned right and followed the white trail along the creek for a little bit before the trail turned and headed back uphill away from the creek. [The first bit of this, down the blue trail to the creek is what I walked with Julia and Grace a few weeks ago.] We talked a bit at times, but the weather was perfect, the woods were quiet, and Dave and I both seemed content to walk in silence as often as not, soaking in the sounds of the stream, the birds and the breeze in the leaves. There were a few others on the trails (mainly with dogs), but not too many. At this point I'm feeling great, having a blast, and very happy to be out in the woods. The new shoes are incredibly comfortable and seem to require no breaking in at all, which is a relief.

At the top of the hill, we turned left onto the yellow trail and followed it to a spur trail through the corner of Tyler Arboretum and downhill to the Sycamore Mills Historic Area on the creek. We rested for a minute and turned around to head back.

The Middle Third - Sycamore Mills to Lot #16

Climbing back out of the stream valley, we doubled back the way we had come on the spur trail and rejoined the yellow trail heading left along the edge of the arboretum. After a while we made a left on the white trail to loop around south of lot #17. I'm still feeling wonderful, the day is perfect, and I am being careful to take the time to look around and enjoy the sights, of which there are many.

There were a number of things I noticed throughout the day. Moving from area to area, the types and colors of leaves on the ground changed noticeably. We went through patches of a specific kind of yellow leaf, then different shaped yellow leaves, then red maple leaves, then one stand of very tall scraggly looking evergreens of some sort, and so on. Dave and I both agreed that it would be nice to learn a little bit more about the different kinds of common trees in the area so that we would know what we were looking at. All we could do today was say "hey, these yellow leaves are different than those other yellow leaves we went through a while back". Also, there were some birds out and about, but I was surprised at how relatively few we heard. At one point we heard and saw a screechy blue jay right above our heads, and I think he was trying to drop berries on our heads, but it was certainly not a forest full of birdsong today.

The Final Third - Lot #16 back to Lot #9
We arrived at lot #16 at around 2:20, or 1 hour and 50 minutes into our day. From the area of lot #16, we used a combination of red and white trails to get back to the blue trail, which we would follow down a feeder stream valley back down to Ridley Creek, meeting up with the trail we had started on. From there, we would double back on the white trail to where we had originally joined it not far from lot #9, and would loop around the hill that lot #9 sits on, climbing up to it from the far side and completing our hike.

At lot #16, beginning the final third of our hike, I am feeling like a million bucks, and think I could do this all day.

Maybe 10 minutes later, we have reached the blue trail for the descent down the feeder stream valley. It is a nice section of trail, with large groves of beautiful beech trees (one of the few types Dave knows). We stop for a minute to watch a chipmunk running along with a nut in its mouth, and when we start moving again, I realize that my right knee is a little sore. Nothing serious, but I know it's there, and feel a little twinge with every step along this section of downward-sloping and side-sloping trail. When we rejoin the white trail at the base of the hill and are on mostly level ground, it bothers me less, but I am still aware of it. The final few hundred yards up the white trail to the back side of lot #9 is really the only strenuous climb of the day, and even at that was very short, but was really the only point in the day where I felt even slightly winded.

In summary, it was a great day, my new equipment seems to be good, and I think I held up ok for not being in the greatest of shape. My feet feel perfect, ankles are good, hips are good, leg muscles are good. The only issue is a sore right knee, which while not bad, is certainly noticeable. Left knee is fine. While typing up this recap on my laptop, I am sitting in bed with an icepack on my knee, and will be interested in how it feels tomorrow.

Most importantly, I really enjoyed myself.

UPDATE (Monday 10/26) - I woke up and my knee felt ok. As I began moving around, though, it is definitely still sore. Nothing horrible, but noticeable. Now I am wondering how long it will be like this, and how easily it might get back to feeling like this when getting active again. We shall see.