Thursday, December 28, 2017

River Update - 12/28

A bunch of us went down to the River on a holiday-season day off to see where things stood, and do a walkthrough of a few things that the builder wanted us to take a look at.

There were a lot of changes since the last time I had been down. Plumbing and electrical rough in was partially complete, some HVAC work was underway, all of the interior framing was done. Windows and doors were all in.

The most significant difference though was the outside. Roofing was on. Siding was mostly done. From the outside, it looked almost done, as compared to the inside which looks nowhere near done.
River facing facade

I really like the style and color of siding we picked, and the roofing looks great too.

Exciting stuff.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Bernina 830

With all of the quilting, costume sewing and other sewing that Amp has been doing, she has been on the lookout for an upgrade machine. The Bernina she has now as her main machine is terrific, but it is on the smaller side for quilting.

The Bernina 830 has been the one she has had her eye on for a while, but they are prohibitively expensive. However, now that there is a newer model replacing the 830, she found one at the local sewing shop that she frequents that was a very good deal, relatively speaking. Done and done.
Bernina 830

As you can see in the picture compared to her old Bernina, this thing is huge, with a very wide throat which will make quilting much easier. It is fully computerized, and can even do programmed embroidery.

Amp has barely had time to scratch the surface of what it can do, but loves it. Which makes me happy. Many great projects to come...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Gratuitous Dog Pics - Late Fall Edition

My indulgence...another round of gratuitous dog pictures. Pardon me...
Comfy dog bed

One and a half year old blue tick beagle.
Bundled up against the cold (by Grace)

We have had a number of snow storms early in the winter this year, and Ryder has had a blast in all of them. He seems unaccustomed to the snow, which would make sense if he is from Georgia or the Carolinas, as we have been told.
New winter coat

He runs around, chases imaginary things, and generally acts as though he has no idea what snow is or how he is supposed to behave in it. It's pretty adorable.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Greater New York Invitational

The third and final gymnastics meets of the fall season was the Greater New York Invitational at Rockland Community College in Suffern NY. This would be a three hour drive from home for a mid-Saturday reporting time, but only a one hour drive from Amp's sister's home in northern NJ.

This was another larger meet with good competition, and Grace didn't have her best meet. She was doing her best to compete on a sore foot that had hindered her practices, and she just wasn't sharp.
5th in Beam

That being said, she still did pretty well, placing 5th in beam and 6th in floor.
6th in Floor

That was good enough for 6th in the All Around.
6th All Around

Epilogue - Grace knew her foot was hurt leading up to this meet, but not severely. She didn't want to go to the doctor for it, figuring that if they took an X-ray and found something small, she would be shut down for a while, and she didn't want to miss this last meet of the fall season. Her coaches thought she probably had a small stress fracture in the 4th metatarsal of her right foot.

So we went to her orthopod a couple days after the meet, got X-rays and an MRI, and sure enough, she had a tiny stress fracture of the 4th metatarsal of her right foot. She would spend 4 weeks in a boot, and miss the first meet of the spring season (the first weekend in January).

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Map Work - Ishtala

Sketching recently has resulted in a draft map of the desert city of Ishtala, in the Kossaran realm of Marishtana. I love these 18 by 24 inch sketch pads...
Ishtala work in process

The heroes of our D&D campaign may (or may not) find themselves in this place at some point in the not too distant future...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Legally Blonde

The Garnet Valley Performing Arts Association performance of Legally Blonde was this weekend, overlapping with Grace's gymnastics meet in York PA.

I have to admit that I knew very little about this show, and hadn't seen the movie that spawned the musical. With Amp doing costumes, I had heard many disjointed bits playing on iPads and iPhones and iMacs as Amp listened for inspiration, but knew very little of the overall show.
Julia in the beauty salon

I was very pleasantly surprised. The show was very entertaining, had a number of good songs, and our kids did a very good production (not surprisingly).
Curtain call

On the sadder side of things, this may well have been Julia's 8th and final show. She did Les Miserables (her [and my] all time favorite) in the spring of her freshman year, both shows in her sophomore, junior, and senior years, and now this in the fall of her "super senior" year. She would be eligible to participate in these shows as long as she is in the school, which in her case will be in the year in which she turns 21, but she seems to be reaching the point at which other things are taking precedence, and she may not want to commit the time for Evita in the spring, and the other shows to come in the next couple of years.

You never know what the future will bring, but if this is the finale, then it would be hard to ask for a better experience than Julia has had. And so the curtain falls.

Tim Weaver Battlefield Invitational

Grace's second meet of the season was the Tim Weaver Battlefield Invitational in York PA.  Reporting time for Excel Gold was 7:00am, almost 2 hours from home, so this was the first meet where Grace and I drove out to York the evening before and stayed in a hotel near the venue. Amp and Julia stayed home since this weekend was the fall musical (Legally Blonde) at the high school, and they were both busy with four shows (1 Thursday, 1 Friday and 2 on Saturday).
Walk in for warm ups

This was a much larger meet than the West Chester meet a couple of weeks ago, and the competition was much stiffer. Grace still did very well, placing 4th in floor (with a personal best of 9.325).
4th place in Floor

...and 6th in Vault (8.2).
6th place in Vault

...and 5th in Beam (8.575).
5th place in Beam

Her team placed second overall.
Excel Gold team second place

Most importantly, she had a lot of fun, and had a great day with her teammates. Next up, Suffern, New York in two weeks.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

West Chester Meet

Grace's first gymnastics meet of the season (Excel Gold level) was at West Chester University. Last year she competed at the Excel Silver level, and did well. The more important thing for me is that she is involved in a team sport that challenges her, and those challenges will serve here well in the future.

She had a really great meet, placing first in vault (her best apparatus) and beam (a personal best, and typically her most challenging apparatus).
Top spot (twice)!!!

She was 6th in floor...
Excel Gold team trophy!

...and 7th in bars (another challenging event for her).
Good times with friends

And had a personal best in the all around. Her team did great as well. There was a big trophy, but I honestly did't make a note of what place they finished. Oh well...

Sunday, October 22, 2017

We're not in Kansas anymore...

...but maybe we should be.

I was lucky enough to see these guys live in 1983, shortly after Steve Walsh left the band. They were perhaps the best instrumentalists I had ever seen, and still are to this day. Hyper-talented. Everybody playing everything. And singing at the same time in multi-layered harmonies.

This came back to mind recently because my 13 year old daughter likes a band called Panic at the Disco. They did a cover of the song Carry on My Wayward Son for all the old dads in the audience who brought their daughters to the concert. Not a bad thought, and not a bad version. Relatively.

Panic at the Disco - Carry on My Wayward Son (2011) - Not bad for a bunch of young pups... Song starts at about 1:40.

Carry On My Wayward Son  (1976) - The real deal. Raw magnificence.

And again in 2009 - Not bad for a bunch of 60 year olds. So much for panicking at ye old disco. Steve Walsh. Kerry Livgren. Richard Williams.

No offense Grace.

OK. Some offense intended. Don't question your elders... Sometimes old school is the best school.

Hence... Miracles Out of Nowhere (43 minutes in). Old School is the best school.

I rest my case.

Yellow Perch

We made another brief trip to the River today to check on progress with the house.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, not too much progress has been made on the house in the last couple of months, but Grace did get some fishing in while Dave and I checked out the house and talked with the builder.
Snagged yellow perch

Using a simple spinner lure, Grace snagged a beautiful yellow perch (no harm done). We don't see a whole lot of yellow perch in the Sassafras, but they are definitely the prettiest fish you can catch in the River.

Well done, Grace. Seeing you gleefully catch fish at the River makes my heart swell in a way that you won't understand until many years from now...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Gratuitous Dog Pictures - Early Fall Edition

So it's been a little while since our last batch of gratuitous dog photos, so here we go...
Ryder loves laundry baskets

Ryder is a bit quirky.
...and loves nesting on my bed

And a little bit nuts.
...and loves a good sun spot

But he's ours...
...and loves a nice warm fall day

...and I wouldn't trade him for the world.

The girls and I have this conversation frequently:
  • But dad, you said you didn't want a dog.
  • I don't.
  • But you love Ryder.
  • Of course I do.
  • So you want a dog?
  • No.
  • But you love him?
  • Yes.
  • And we're keeping him?
  • Of course we are. He's family. Ohana means family, and family means no one left behind... (thanks Lilo).

Saturday, September 30, 2017

School of Rock

Julia is a huge musical theater fan, so this year's birthday present for her was a family trip to see School of Rock at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway.
View from our seats - nice theater

We were able to get pretty good tickets in the balcony for the Sunday matinee. Before the show, we had lunch at Guy Fieri's American Grill, where we had also had lunch a couple of years before, soon after it had opened [note that by the next time we went to Broadway in January 2018, it had closed its doors...]
Girls on Broadway

The show itself was far better than I expected it to be, and if the PR materials are to be believed, featured a bunch of kids playing the instruments live.

Having liked the musical, I think I will make it a point of going back and watching the movie on which it was based.

As far as family traditions go, doing a Broadway show once or twice a year for Julia is turning out to be a really nice thing...

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Avalon 2017

From the 21st to the 25th we did our annual week in Avalon, at the Windrift with the cousins, as usual, and it was a lot of fun.
Girls on Moreys Pier in Wildwood

There is something to be said for family traditions, and this has become a vacation one for us over the last 5 or 6 years.
Moreys Pier

We do beach. Pool. More beach. More pool. Wildwood boardwalk.
The compulsory mini golf evening

Mini golf. Eat too much.
Julia taking it slow

Sleep in.
Unfortunate pic framing on Moby Dick

Enjoy the ocean. Enjoy the pool. Again. Enjoy being with family.

There should be another post just like this next August, although that one will probably need to be planned around Band Camp, since Grace will be a freshman in the high school marching band by then, and that will take up the latter part of the month. Where does the time go?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Standing Stones

In a D&D game, there are a few types of must-have terrain to keep in your back pocket for use as your players and their characters bumble and stumble around the world (if you are into that sort of thing...). Standing stones, obelisks, and forgotten monument stones rank high on that list.

When the mood strikes me to make something in the way of fantasy terrain, and I can't figure out something specific to do, it is an easy choice to carve up a few standing stones, monuments or forgotten altars (blood-stained perhaps...).
Standing stone and forgotten altar miscellany

These take virtually no time at all, and consist of a little bit of knife-carved foam coated with a darker gray undercoat and a light gray sponging overtop. Throw in a little dark green or light green weathering for a change of pace. Easy Peasy.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sewer Tiles

What's a good Dungeons and Dragons town or city without sewers underneath, inhabited by all sorts of evil and ill-intentioned creatures? With that in mind, I have spent a little time recently finishing a modular set of sewer tiles for our games.

The tiles are carved out of 1/2 inch extruded polystyrene insulation foam board (same as most of my D&D terrain). Each piece has a 1/2 inch base layer topped by another 1/2 inch "walkway" layer. The channels are either 5 foot (one square) or 10 foot (2 square) wide, with 5 or 10 foot wide walkways alongside. Where there is no walkway it assumes "solid rock" negative space.

Step 1, after foam assembly and a black base coat, is a sponging of Folk Art brand "medium gray".
Step 1 - medium gray sponging

Step 2 is a sponging of Folk Art "dove gray", a light gray applied more sparingly than the "medium gray". You want to highlight but not totally hide the darker gray, although I admittedly still go fairly heavy-handed on this step. Lighter colors "pop" better on the table during gameplay, and what might look more realistic up close from an artistic point of view often looks dark and dreary during games...
Step 2 - light gray sponging

Step 3 is a little bit of spot dry brushing of Folk Art "buckskin brown" (this is a nice rich medium brown color no longer stocked by the local Michaels stores - sad face...). This just aims to give a bit of a muddy feel, and to break up the potential monotony of gray.
Step 3 - a brown dry brush in spots

Step 4 is to retouch any "water" areas and edges with black, as you will unavoidably sponge some gray onto these areas.

Step 5 is to apply a brush-textured coat of gloss Mod Podge to the water areas to give them texture before painting. This is important, as you will be relying on the raised texture of this first Mod Podge coat to give something for steps 6 and 7 to catch on. The dry brushing in the next two steps will not be as effective if there is not some texture for them to pick up and accent.

Step 6 is to lightly dry brush some "buckskin brown" onto the water areas. This needs to be done streakily (is that even a word?) and sparingly - you are looking for hints of a sludgy nasty greenish-brown water, not an outright brown water.

Step 7 is to drag a heavy dry brush coat of Folk Art "citrus green", or a similarly putrid green, over the Mod Podge texture from step 5 (this is why step 5 is so important).

Step 8 is to re-coat the water areas with another coat (or two) of brush-textured gloss Mod Podge. You can see the way I did the brush-texturing of the Mod Podge (in step 5) by how the "citrus green" dry brush caught on that texture. The important thing in steps 6 and 7 is that I was looking for some hints of brown overlaid with a good bit of putrid yellowy-green, but didn't want the end result to totally overlay the black undercoat. I was hoping for a yucky greenish-brown over a still-dark base. I think this gives that effect. It might not be everyone's idea of a D&D under-the-town sewer, but it did achieve the exact result I was looking for...
Steps 4-8: brown water, putrid green, and gloss Mod Podge

By the end of this mini project I've added enough new pieces to the ones I had made several months ago to fill a medium sized Sterilite storage container with a good variety of 5 and 10 foot sewers with 5 and 10 foot walkways, including enough junction pieces to give me good flexibility to create all sorts of layouts. [In other words, probably much more than I will ever need...]

As with the badlands terrain pieces documented a few days ago, I'm not sure how much use I will have of these pieces, but they were fun to make, and the entire project probably took less than $20 in materials and 3-4 hours of time. And most importantly, it was fun...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Glen Campbell

Music legend Glen Campbell passed away August 8 at the age of 81. I can honestly say that as a younger person, I had no interest at all (or frankly, knowledge of...) his music. Rhinestone Cowboy would be enough to send me out of the room...
Glen Campbell, earlier

But then sometimes you grow up, and your mind opens up a bit, and your musical horizons expand. My knowledge of his music is admittedly still very limited, but I can recognize that he certainly had a substantial handful of timeless classics, songs that I can now appreciate for what they are.
Glen Campbell, later

My favorite Glen Campbell song is Wichita Lineman, a song written by Jimmy Webb in 1968 (the background to which is here...a good story in and of itself)

Wichita Lineman on PBS, a wonderful version of a classic song. Lovely. Great understated guitar work, with a beautiful simple solo and a bunch of seemingly effortless fills.

...And an amazing solo version with terrific guitar work (and a very interesting arrangement) - song starts at about 8:50 after an interview.

Guitar Man with Jerry Reed.

By the Time I Get to Phoenix, and Galveston. The guitar solo on Galveston (~5:30 on) would make many modern day "shredders" blush. (Who knew?)

Lastly, Ghost Riders in the Sky with Roy Clark. Roy Clark could be a whole other post...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rivenrock Wastes Completed

Shown below are the intermediate steps and final product of the project to complete "badlands" hill terrain for either historical miniatures or Dungeons and Dragons games. [Another very recent post showed the beginnings]

After a dark brown latex house paint base coat (Behr "Swiss Brown"), each piece gets a stipple and dry brush of Craftsmart "Orange Spice". This rusty reddish brown color is intended to show only as subtle hints in crevasses, and isn't done very heavily.
Brown base, rusty red and finished piece

Next, each piece gets a healthy sponge coat of Folk Art "Camel", my go-to light tan color for terrain. A little dry brushing gets to the spots the sponge can't easily reach. I don't want an overwhelming amount of the dark brown base showing through.
Base coated, rusty red and "camel" sponge

Finally, a lighter sponge coat of a very light creamy tan (Folk Art's "Taffy") is used to highlight the edges and brighten the flat surfaces. The pieces looked a little dingy before this step but popped nicely after.
"Camel" sponge (left) without final highlight (at right)

The final project, shown below, consists of a large two-piece hill which can be used together or separate, a bunch of larger pieces, and a good assortment of smaller pieces in both 2" foam and 3/4" foam. The 2" pieces (which are most of them) give good height and mass, and the smaller pieces allow for climbing access for figures, or just smaller scatter.
Final pieces with "Taffy" light highlight

This project filled a very large plastic storage box. I'm not sure how often I will have a use for them, but the materials were cheap and the whole project only took a few hours scattered over the course of a week or so. Very easy, and now I have options other than gray rock...

Monday, August 7, 2017

River Update

As noted previously (April 23), the family has embarked on a major project - knocking down the old River house and building a new one in its place.

Progress has been slow, but the amount of permits and studies and approvals and inspections to build a place on the waterfront is astounding in its....umm...thoroughness.
New house taking shape

We had the chance to go down today on a rainy day to meet with the builder and check out where things stood.
Great room to be - living and dining from the kitchen

Other than rainy and dreary and wet, it was nice to see a fully framed house with most of a roof. This was the first chance to walk through the bones of the new house.

There is a lot of work left to be done (obviously), but it was nice to see it this far along. In other words, not a hole in the ground.

I will admit that I still feel a bit of sadness every time I think of the old house being gone, but that will pass in time... And I have no doubt the new house will be amazing.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Rivenrock Wastes

In the world of Myara, north of the area that our characters have been operating in, is a wilderness region called the Rivenrock Wastes. I envision this as an arid land of wind and rain carved sandstone formations not unlike the more rugged parts of the American southwest.

I don't have any terrain pieces suitable for this. But I can make some...

Once again using the Proxxon, I am able to cut pieces of 2 inch thick extruded polystyrene insulation board quickly and easily. A little knife work cleans up the basic shapes. More little bits will be made and glued (as in the back of the picture) to make two-level pieces. Finished pieces could in turn be stacked to make taller formations.
The Rivenrock Wastes - in process

Easy. Maybe the players will choose to go to a place where these can be used. Maybe not. Hard to say.

And it doesn't really matter. The project (thus far) was fun.

Florian Sky Ships

The Proxxon hot wire table has (as expected) triggered a burst of crafting creativity. One of the things I have been thinking about introducing to our D&D campaign has been an encounter with a Florian Sky Ship - a magical sky ship that looks like a seagoing ship but sails the skies of Myara. [This did happen last Friday, but that post will be on my Myaran Realms blog soon...]

Free-handing on the Proxxon makes this relatively easy. So a first attempt at something like this makes an impossible thing at least possible. Step 1 was to rough out the shape of the ship, including fore and aft raised decks, and then to add "railing" pieces made on the new toy. These are approximate (at best) in terms of serious modeling, but are fantastic in terms of creating the illusion of a Florian sky ship...
Basic Ship Shape

Step 2 was to do a basic paint job consisting of a dark brown latex house paint undercoat (the same used for my "cave" tiles), followed by a light tan dry brush of a cheap craft paint (Folk Art "camel" I think...). Before this, I scribed the lines using a pencil (shown in the first picture). After painting, the lines were highlighted by scribing them with a brown Sharpie. Like in the theater, things viewed at moderate distance need to be exaggerated to get the intended effect.
Ship with base coat of paint

Step 3 was to detail the sky ship using odds and ends I had laying around in my "bits box". A bits box is all the little leftover bits you have hanging around unused from many years of historical and fantasy miniatures gaming. Deck hatches to the below-decks levels and cargo hold were made by scribing and painting rectangles of balsa wood (in complementary but slightly different colors). The cannon is a leftover from an Empire Warhammer Fantasy kit. The captains steering wheel is a wheel from the same Empire cannon kit. The "air elemental power nodes" that power the ship are 1/2 inch wood working plugs or scratch built pieces. The chain blocking the gang-plank ramp to the main deck is a piece of jewelry chain tacked down with two black-headed map pins.
Completed Sky Ship

The beauty of the new Proxxon is that this entire crafting project took maybe two hours of time, only about a half hour of which was cutting the foam pieces of the ship. The rest was painting and detailing. With the curved lines and railing bits, this wouldn't have been possible, in any amount of time, with my old method of "sheet of foam board and a knife".

This project alone probably made the cost of the Proxxon worth it. But there are many more projects to come...

Saturday, July 29, 2017

That New Car Smell

As has been the case for each of the past couple of leases, we are nearing the end of the three year lease on Amp's current car (a 2014 CRV), went into the Honda dealership just to check out our options, and drove home three hours later in a new car...
2017 Honda Pilot

They make it very easy. Almost too easy. But we have loved the cars, been happy with the dealership, and needed to get something done by mid-September, so...there's no time like the present...

We went in looking at Pilots, which are a full sized SUV compared to the CRV, which is (I guess) a mid-size SUV. After our previous two Pilots (a 2009 and a 2012), the CRV always seemed small and light. It was a fine vehicle. Perhaps under-powered, but a fine vehicle for what it is.

The Pilot has significantly more cargo space; not an absolute requirement, but nice to have when you need it. It has lots more power. Third row fold-down seating, with comfortable space for 8, as opposed to not-always-comfortable seating for 5 in the CRV. The girls are getting bigger, and so are their friends...

Perhaps most importantly, it is a great peace of mind vehicle for me. One of the great things about the previous two Pilots was that I could rest comfortably in the knowledge that my three girls were in a good heavy tank of a vehicle. The CRV wasn't a tank. Call me silly, but I feel like a good husband and dad to know that my girls are back in a tank. And as long as we continue to frack the heck out of the North American geologic infrastructure (to our own ultimate detriment), gas prices will likely remain manageable.

The new Pilot has a black exterior with a two-tone medium and light gray leather interior. I like leather if for no other reason than that it is easier to keep clean and maintain trade-in value at the end of the lease as compared to cloth seats. Plus it's really nice (hee hee).

Anyway, a nice new ride for Mom and the kids. Yay them.