Monday, June 12, 2017

Graduation Day

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

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

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

Even if it's just not possible.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dwarven Sorcerer WIP

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

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

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Senior Awards Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Human Ranger

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Grace's Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then my office.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Senior Prom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Graduation Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Enter Sandman - Mariano Rivera Day

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

End of an Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Brown Tone Dungeon Tiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Training Day

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Hollywood Stars Meet

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Final Curtain Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lucky Leprechaun Meet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Upcoming Concerts

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

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

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

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

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

All exciting stuff...

A Little D&D Crafting

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

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

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

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

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

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