Monday, March 27, 2017

A Final Curtain Call

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

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

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

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

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

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 The kids did fine with it, but it was an outdated sexist bit of fluff without a whole lot of redeeming music.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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lucky Leprechaun Meet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Upcoming Concerts

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

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

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

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

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

All exciting stuff...

A Little D&D Crafting

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ryder, Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

He's a keeper.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ryder, Day 2

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

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

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

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

Ryder, Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pigs in Flight

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

So this is our new dog Ryder.

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

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

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

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

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