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Point Pinole (Saturday). I actually wasn't that good at beating the heat on Saturday. But, when I'm not gaming, it's the day I go out and adventure, and I didn't want to waste my adventure day. So, I headed out to Point Pinole on my bike. Actually, I was sort of beating the heat, because I wasn't hiking. A carefully paced bike ride can be pretty cool in comparison, and it was quite nice until I got to the hill leading up to Hilltop Mall. By then I was a bit overheated, so I stopped, rested, and drank. Then I walked up the hill with another stop in the middle. And then it was over to the mall, which is air-conditioned (or, on Saturday, sort of air-conditioned). Unfortunately that also meant that it was quite a shock coming out of the mall, now towards 1pm or so. By this point, it was clearly hot, in the 100 or so degree range. Point Pinole is downhill from Hilltop Mall, but it was still work. Fortunately, when I made it out to the point of the Point, and sat down in the shade, it was cool, as I expected: about -10 degrees for being out at the point, about -10 degrees for being in the shade. I was stunned by the heat while r for a while, but then I was able to enjoy myself reading and writing. The bike ride back, though, that was some real work, but I only went as far as Richmond, then took BART back.

The Bedroom (Saturday).
Our upstairs cools poorly and that's a problem on a super-hot day. It was looking like it was going to be unsleepable, but then K. set a fan to blasting the bed. That worked, for me at least. K. unfortunately still found it unsleepable.

Legion of Honor (Sunday).
Where's cooler than Point Pinole? How about The City! Not on Saturday, when it was over 100, but on Sunday it had cooled down to 80 or so: a tinge of hot with a breeze of cool. Our goal was the Legion of Honor museum, where they had a exhibit about Degas and the millinery trade. I'm always happy to see impressionists. It indeed was pictures of men with hats and women with hats and exhibits with hats. We laughed long and hard at a woman (with hat) riding a geese-mobile, which is a poster I've seen before. We were less bemused by entire dead birds mounted upon hats. (In fact, K. seemed quite disturbed by them.) Overall, it was a nice exhibit, other than the avian corpses. Some nice works by Degas, Manet, and others. Some nice works by more representational artists in the same period. Some nice hats. I've decided that I should add a straw boater hat to my collection. It's such a long trip out to the Legion of Honor just to see a single exhibit that we'd hoped to then walk over to Golden Gate Park, enjoy the park, and stop in at a 'zine show there, but K. was unfortunately feeling sick by the time we were done, and so we passed.

The Hills (Monday). A holiday monday! But I didn't feel much need to wander further after two busy days. I did hike up above Clark Kerr after lunch and wrote and read for a short time on the hillside. But then it started raining! I had to put my computer and book away, but I didn't mind meandering a bit more in the warm rain. It disappeared all too quickly.

Streaming (Weekend). Over the holiday weekend, we also watched some shows on streaming: Orphan Black and 11.22.63. I've always had a somewhat uncomfortable relationship with streaming. The first streaming show we ever watched was Pirate Master, back in 2007, and it was horrible. It was a frustrating challenge to watch every episode because of constant, long pauses. Then we got a Roku, and its streaming of Netflix was really bad too. We've been OK with Netflix in more recent years, through our Tivo, but then we hit Orphan Black on BBC America this weekend, and it became obvious that streaming is still a poorly understood (and poorly programmed) art form. Not only did the show frequently pause, often losing images and even dialogue, but multiple times it also died out and restarted at the beginning. At least six times over the course of three episodes. Fortunately, we've got the rest of the season, from episode four up on the Tivo, and fortunately 11.22.63 has been doing better after some jerkiness in the first episode. But streaming: I don't get why people are so eager to use such a substandard delivery method. Netflix is literally the only streaming service I've ever used that was reliably good ... and even that was ruined when we tried to use it on the Roku, a device built for streaming!

(Tuesday). It has cooled at last.

shannon_a: (Default)
A Night at the Movies (Friday: 23). Kimberly and I rarely go the movies, but Christmas is our definitive goto movie day, because that's what we did on several Christmas days in the '00s when we were keeping to ourselves. So we went a bit early this year, and saw Rogue One right after I knocked off work on Friday. Great Star Wars movie; one of the best. Great characters, great development. Yes, its tone is different, but it had a tone of sacrifice and danger that I think is missing from many of the core films.

The Journey Home (Saturday: 24). We got up bright and early on Saturday to go down to San Marteen for the holiday. That's been our pattern the last few years and it's been quite nice staying over and having Christmas with the folks. But it's quite long to BART down to Fremont, then drive to San Marteen: over an hour and a half. I keep praying for the southern BART stations to open, but Warm Springs BART is entering its third year behind schedule. It's apparently been built, but they're losing trains between Fremont and Warm Springs. Theoretically, Berryessa is going to also open in 2017, which is the exciting one because it's right next to many folks I know, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Tichu! (Saturday+: 24+). We often play games while down in San Marteen, and this time around I brought Tichu because the Wiedlins are big card-playing folks. Rob, my Mom, Bob, and I played a couple of games on Saturday, and it went over great. (Then Jason and Kimberly joined us for a game on Sunday.) Well, Bob had some rather humorous problems distinguishing the phoenix and the dragon; I'm not convinced he realized they were separate cards at first and he never quite figured out their scoring and use. But even with that, everyone enjoyed the game, and I believe multiple folks wanted to get their own copies. (In fact, my siblings later made up their own deck for New Years!) It's definitely going into my bag regularly for future South Bay trips (except that I need to get a fresh copy soon, as mine is pretty worn from ~20 games).

I Am the Ping Pong King! Ko-ko-kachu. (Saturday+: 24+). There is always ping pong at the Wiedlin household, and I managed to remain undefeated against Bob, Rob, and Jason. (Well, undefeated in two-out-of-three sets; two of them came down to the rubber match.) I'll also admit that two of my opponents were somewhat intoxicated due to the beer & pizza from just beforehand. Probably primarily from the beer.

It's Starting to Feel a Lot Like Christmas (Sunday: 25). Christmas morning at the Wiedlin house is fun and chaotic. Stockings for us kids and lots of presents that everyone is crazily opening their prezzies simultaneously. There was much loot, including a nice windbreaker, a nice jacket, some hiking shoes (all successfully tried out!), and a few games. Thanks parents and siblings!

Farm, Farm on the Range (Sunday+: 25+). One of the presents I got from Rob was Stardew Valley, a computer game that I'd mentioned, that he then ran out and gifted to me on Steam. I'd heard good things about this roleplaying farm-sim, and occasionally I play extensively through a game over my holiday break. This seemed like a good time to return to that old habit. Steam says I played it for over 20 hours, so it's definitely a success (and speaks well to my relaxing over the holiday!).

It's Starting to Feel a Lot Like Christmas II (Sunday: 25). At home, late on Sunday night, Kimberly and I had our own Christmas. There were more stockings (prepared by her this year, with just a little help from me because she was feeling time-crunched) and more prezzies. Nice Hawaiian shirts, a TARDIS mug, and more wonderful Kimberly-created bookmarks. Yay.

Hike Any Mountain (Monday: 26). On my Monday back from San Marteen I needed some restful, relaxation time, so I did my most common medium-length hike up in the hills behind us. I walk up to the rear of Strawberry Canyon and then loop back over the top of Panoramic Hill. It's about two hours, has a nice ascent, and great views. I also wanted to try out my new hiking shoes, and they worked great. No slipping, nor sliding, not even after I hiked down some places that usually give me problems.

A Night at the Movies II (Monday: 26). I got Kimberly a few DVDs for Christmas, and we watched one of them Monday night: JasonBourne. She was a big fan of the first three, and I'm happy to say we were both quite pleased with the fifth-ish one. It was nice to see Bourne's super competence expressed in a new way, through more thoughtful and tactical work. We had some problems with the pile of coincidences implicit in the main antagonist, but other than that, this was a fine movie. I have no idea why Rotten Tomatoes rates it exactly the same as The Bourne Legacy (the pseudo fourth movie), because that was a big "Who Cares?" while this was entirely enjoyable and provided some nice closure.

The MOMA Has No Clothes (Tuesday: 27). Imagine a room filled with black sand. On the opposite wall is a shattered mirror. Off to another side is a picture of a hand holding a bean, way up on the wall where it's hard to see. A voice intones deeply accented gibberish. Wait, there's no need to imagine, because this crap is actually an installation at the MOMA in San Francisco. AKA, the sort of crap that gives modern art a bad name. Also there, giving modern art a bad name: a pile of red, white and blue bicycles, a triptych of entirely white canvases, an entirely black canvas, and an entirely blue canvas. MOMA should be ashamed of displaying that sort of thing. But we also saw great mobiles by Alex Calder, interesting cityscapes made up of individual photos, some other nice collages, and a beautiful set of dodecahedrons made with string and some sort of metal. It was an enjoyable four(!) hours at the MOMA, but probably our last visit while we live in California.

It's Starting to Feel a Lot Like Christmas III (Wednesday: 28). Melody and Jared visited us on Wednesday to complete our trilogy of Christmases. We talked, we ate at Chevy's, and we exchanged gifts for gift cards.

Game On! (Wednesday: 28). This year I've mostly been coming home from EndGaming pretty early, because Kimberly has been going to bed early, but on Wednesday I splurged and told Kimberly I'd be home after she was asleep. As a result I got to play two long games: Orleans: Invasion and Key Harvest. Yay! It was a lot of fun!

Park Place (Thursday: 29). Kimberly and I like occasionally going out to Golden Gate Park, getting Andronico's sandwiches, eating them, and wandering around. So we did that on Thursday. I have a new appreciation for the park since I've been to New York, as it's so different from Central Park. It protects you from the city, whereas Central Park feels like a big bowl with city all around. Anywho, we walked around, and I kept getting turned around. It was fun. On our way out I climbed Strawberry Hill, and was impressed by the views.

On the Seventh Day He Rested (Friday: 30). After six days of running about, I mostly relaxed at home on Friday. Though I must admit I did a short climb above Clark Kerr (my 60-minute or so super-short walk up in the hills). And we ate dinner out. And we got groceries.

These Shoes Were Made For Walking (Saturday: 31). I had a casual morning on Saturday, but after lunch I decided to head out to Briones Reservoir, an EBMUD area that I've been wanting to explore for a while. Google tricked me into thinking Bear Creek Trail went right out to Bear Creak Road, but all that was there was an inaccessible fire trail. So instead it was another .6 miles up the road and 300 feet of ascent, which tired me out before the walk. The actual Reservoir is gorgeous with great hillside trails looping around it. And it was entirely empty due to EBMUD's policy of making it as hard as possible for people to use their trails. And best of all, there were benches every mile or so. I only walked about a mile and half out (then the same back), but I now really want to figure out how to walk the whole reservoir. It's 12.5 miles, or 14.5 if I don't bike up that steep hill, so it'll take some stamina and a full day. Maybe in Spring.

A Final Gift from 2016 (Saturday: 31). While I was out hiking, Kimberly was sickening with the flu. Thanks 2016, you rock.

Writing Like He's Running Out of Time (Saturday+: 24+). And finally, writing. In recent years, I've used my last week of the year to write really extensively, but this year (shocker) I decided to mostly relax instead. Oh, I did write whenever I was on a BART train, and there were quite a few. So I got a few histories done going to Fremont and back and bits and pieces on my other trips. But I'm probably a bit behind going into the new year. But, this post is done. My 2016 index for Mechanics & Meeples is done. My 2016 RPG year in review needs a double-check for important stuff and an edit and it's done. And then I need to see if it's possible to get a week ahead on my histories like I'd hope.

But carefully. I wouldn't want to lose my week of R&R.
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As we closed in on lunchtime on the Friday after Thanksgiving I was determined to find myself a tasty sandwich that I could eat up in the hills above Berkeley.

But Cheese 'n Stuff was closed. So was IB Hoagies. I finally decided to walk all the way up to North Berkeley to get a delicious Andronico's sandwich.

Truth to tell, I hadn't even expected to be back in Berkeley on Friday morning.

One day earlier. We headed out to BART at a quarter 'til 10 on Thursday, for Thanksgiving down in San Marteen. It's the first time we've had Thanksgiving there in I dunno how long, and I think it happened primarily because I quizzed early about plans in San Marteen rather than just waiting and then making our own plans up here when things were getting toward the last moment. So, yay.

K. and I packed pills and toiletries and clothes to stay over night, though we weren't definite about doing so. That's foreshadowing about that whole not-expecting-to-be-in-Berkeley-on-Friday bit.

Jason picked us up in Fremont, because the Warm Springs BART station, now two years late, still hasn't happened. We got to see his new house on the way to San Marteen. It seemed very nice.

Then we were down to San Marteen by noon or so, which was great. There was talking and ping ponging and then dinner around 2.30. More talking and some football watching (which I find interesting enough though it's never something I'd do on my own) and some gaming with Between Two Cities and Dixit. It was feeling like late evening by the time Jason and Lisa and Rob were all planning to head out, but it was only 6 or 7 or something, which was pretty cool — getting such a full day in and still having evening ahead of us.

I was somewhat concerned about staying overnight because of the fact that the heat wasn't working at Casa Wiedlin in San Marteen. There were fires and heaters going all over the house and it was keeping it from being super cold. But I thought it was going to be pretty cold in the morning.

But then there was the pumpkin pie incident.

K. awoke from her post-turkey stupor, ate pumpkin pie, and got sick from it. So we ultimately decided to head home on Thursday night so she could be sick there instead of at someone else's house.

Rob drove us, so we got to talk to both brothers on different car trips.

The Warm Springs BART extension still wasn't open, so he took us up to Fremont.

Friday, I did get my sandwich at Andronico's.

Another side effect of the is-it-a-holiday-or-is-it-not problem of Black Friday was that AC Transit was running a weekday schedule. So I had to hike all the way up to Euclid to catch a bus, and it didn't deliver me quite into Tilden.

But I had a nice lunch in Tilden, then I wrote for a while, then I walked all the way home from there: up through southern Tilden, around Strawberry Canyon, and then down Panoramic Hill. Somewhere over 10 miles total, the exact sort of nice hike in the hills that I'd been wanting for a few weeks.

Saturday was gaming, our first full session of Burning Wheel play. We're still at that uncomfortable point where we're learning a game system, and Burning Wheel is quite complex, which means we'll be there for a while.

But, the gears kept turning and we continued our development of our story.

The AP of our game so far is here though I haven't added this week's session yet. As always, there are too many things to write. (More on that momentarily.)

Sunday was rest (and writing). But after some early afternoon naps, K. and I put up our Christmas tree.

This is an artificial tree that K. found after last year's sawing-the-tree-in-half debacle. Putting the new tree together and spreading out all the branches took forever and was quite exhausting, but I compared it to going across town to pick out a tree, and it wasn't too bad. And that was on top of moving various book cases and a cat tree out of the way to provide space for the christmas tree. And moving a cat out of the way, as Callisto kept insisting on jumping on the top of the cat tree whenever it stopped for a moment in its movements. This made things particularly difficult when the cat tree had to go through low doorways.

After all that, the hanging of lights and ornaments was pretty easy.

So there's now a nice tree in the corner of our living room. Callisto has only made one mad rush at it so far, threatening that she might climb straight up it.

Also busyness this weekend: writing, writing, writing.

  • Prep for Saturday adventure (due Friday night; done). I had fun detailing places and people in our city of Eligium, starting to create the modern basis of our world.
  • Edits and expansions of three Pathfinder ACG strategy articles (due Sunday night; done).
  • This journal entry (done).
  • AP for Saturday's game (due before I forget things; in process).
  • Four D&D Classic histories (due Monday night; three and a half drafted).
  • One Prince Valiant encounter (due Tuesday night; half done).
  • A very long Catan gamopedia (in process).

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Kimberly says that Labor Day is her least favorite day of the year. It's because of the block party, a loud, raucous affair with blasting music that takes over the next block around lunch time and continues through the day. I've long thought that the people putting it on are horribly abusing whatever permit they get from the city, because it's decidedly not a block party, it's a party to which they invite all their friends from the entire East Bay.

But there are some fights to be fought, and some not.

So today I suggested to K. that we should go out to Glen Park, and we did. We were out of the house before 10 and walking up into the park by 11 or so. We had a nice lunch from the overpriced but tasty Canyon Market that we ate in the park and then hiked along the canyon walls, a trek that was supported (literally) by the new walking poles that K. got recently.

We really had no desire to come home afterward, so after the hike, we hung out at a park/playground for a few hours, me writing and K. working on her iPad, then walked back the long way to 24th & Mission BART.

Ironically, the first time we went up to Glen Park was Labor Day, 2013. I didn't write about why we went that day, but obviously we were avoiding the obnoxious block party then too. Afterward, we did the same walk down through Diamond Heights to 24th and Mission, and I remember being really tired out by it. Not at all today — not by the climb up the canyon and not by the walk down to the Mission. So yay for improved physical fitness (particularly walking) over the last three years.

And by the time we got home the party had only an hour or so left to go.

The rest of the weekend I've been out and about too. On Saturday I walked from our house up to Lake Anza in Tilden via the fire trails above Clark Kerr and Strawberry Canyon. I used to think that Tilden was far away, so it's pretty great to to hike up there and to think nothing of it.

On Sunday, I mostly lazed around, but after dinner I did a quick (well, 100 minute or so) 5-mile hike from the south side of Clark Kerr to the UC Botanical Gardens and back.

It's really cool to have all those trails to accessible, so close, and offering so many different possibilities.

I've been doing plenty of writing, of course, working on three really tough histories this week for DMSGuild (and ultimately for my sequel to Designers & Dragons). I can't quite say they're about three major products for D&D, but they are about two major products, and one other that was deserving of a major history. They'll be up on DMSGuild over the next two weeks and total about 6,500 words between the three of them.

And I'm getting ready for a semi-surprise trip to British Columbia. Oh, and I'd known it was a possibility since late July, I think. C. idly mentioned it and I realized I needed to get out of the house the next day to get my passport renewed, since that was just 7 weeks out at the time.

Surprisingly, my passport arrived just two weeks after I requested it. That helped make things stress free, especially since I was a bit worried about my name change, which had never been reflected on a passport. But no problem. (Apparently.)

Then last Monday, C. confirmed to me that I was being invited on the British Columbia trip, if I thought I could deal with all the people for a full week.

The reason is a company retreat for the blockchain company that C. is now working at, and that I've been doing tech writing and editing for. I really have little idea what to expect, but I've liked working with them, and I'd liked to be included going forward, so it seemed like a good thing to do.

The venue looks beautiful, but as I told C., I hope I actually get to see some of it, and not just be stuck in a hotel the whole time. (He says there are breaks in the schedule, but we'll see how it all works out.)

Anywho, I've been trying to get books read and histories and reviews and APs written before I leave; starting tomorrow I also need to get more serious about getting a few Skotos things out of my hair.

And then it'll be off into the blue for a week away from home. Busiest year in maybe forever, since they'll be my third major trip, after Hawaii and New York.

Lucky we aren't ending up in Hawaii for Christmas too, like we'd originally considered.


Jan. 2nd, 2016 02:16 pm
shannon_a: (Default)
So the holiday season is officially over. I was back at work on Friday, even if it's the weekend now.

The Wiedlin Christmas. Kimberly and I went down to San Marteen on Christmas Eve. That's a grueling three hour or so trip by foot, by BART, and finally by car. I'd been hoping that Warm Springs BART would be open by this Christmas. (It was supposed to be.) Alas, no, we're still stuck in Fremont, which is not just several miles further north, but also quite a ways from the highway. (If you were designing a public transit end point, wouldn't you want to put it near the highway??)

As has been the case the last few years, we spent Christmas Eve with my mom, Bob, and Rob, with shrimp dinner as prelude, then board games afterward. (This year, Between Two Cities was well-received.)

My mom has three guest rooms in her house (one of which is mostly an office), and we've now slept in all of them due to various siblings being in various rooms for the long-haul at various times. We should unlock some sort of achievement.

It's nice staying over the night, then having a family Christmas in the morning (when Jason and Lisa show up from their other-family festivities). We had stockings and presents. Afterward Kimberly and I went with folks to walk dogs on The Loop, then I went to bike with Bob, who had a new bike. Then there was a tiny bit of game playing. (Jason can not read game rules!) Then a more traditional Christmas dinner, then an hour or so of Ping Pong. (I'm always surprised that I can still play decently well, with my once-a-year playing.) It was a very active Christmas, which would be foreshadowing for the whole holiday.

Jason insisted on giving us a ride all the way back home, which means it was only a 2-hour trek home (but 4 hours for him!).

The Mini Appel Christmas. Towarder the end of the holiday, Melody and Jared came and visited us. We talked, had lunch at Smart Alec's, talked, and exchanged some presents. They had to move their cars every two hours due to Berkeley's fascist parking laws (laws that they're now talking about extending to evenings and weekends, which I suspect would be the end of me being able to host gaming at my house). Any who, the Appel christmas was nice.

The Christmas Tree Ordeal. By the time Christmas came around, our tree was quite dry, the result of us having picked it up a few days after Thanksgiving. So we took it down the Monday afterward. That turned out to be a lot of work. The hardest bit was getting the slats of wood and tub off the base of the tree. That required screwdrivers, a hammer, and lots of prying. It took two of us and some trickery to get the final nail out of the center of everything. Then I had to cut the top couple of feet off the tree so it'd get picked up. That last work didn't seem as impossible, but took some hard effort.

So, we've now had the entire adult Christmas experience.

Shortly afterward, Kimberly ordered an artificial tree for next year.

The Other Stuff. We saw Star Wars and enjoyed it greatly (though I thought it hit too many plot beats from the original movie). We went to the Academy of Sciences. We went to Rick and Ann's for brunch. I did not do much biking due to lack of bike, at least not until Wednesday when I took the new bike out to EndGame.

The Presents. Lots of fun stuff. Kimberly got me an entirely delightful Dalek mug. Also a biking shirt that I think will be really nice in summer. There were many games from Wiedlins, including some new Feld games and Broom Service. And some books. I used cash to pick up many things including the run of Y: The Last Man in nice hardcovers and the Lord of the Rings deckbuilders, and Wrath of the Righteous decks for Pathfinder ACG and biking lights and gloves.

So that was Christmas.
shannon_a: (Default)
This year, Kimberly and I have our first Christmas tree ever. I don't mean our first Christmas tree as a married couple. I mean the first Christmas tree that either of us have had since we moved away from home, to college.

I always had Christmas trees growing up, at least as far back as I remember. I mainly remember going out with Bob and my mom .. and in later years with a very little Jason ... to the mountains. We'd cut one down, strap it on the top of a car like a downed deer, and drive it home. We were rugged men. This was at a Christmas tree farm, of course.

At my dad's condo, I remember having trees that his cat used to like to climb. They'd inevitably fall over as a result. The tree and the cat both. There'd be a great crash, and then much cleaning up of glass former ornaments. Later, when he moved into a house, he got a living tree in a big plastic tub. We'd haul it into the house come Christmas time, after it had sat out in the side yard all year. It was more resistant to falling over due to roots and stuff.

At my mom's house, I mainly remember decorating the tree with Peanuts ornaments. I had one for every year starting in 1977. That one was a flat wooden one. Later ones were plastic, and a few may even have been of glass. The later ones were all a more socially acceptable spherical shape. Miraculously, I don't think we ever broke any of the glass ones. Those ornaments are still at my mom's house (see: we've never had a tree before).

At my dad's house, I don't remember any heirloom artifacts, but I do remember throwing tinsel on the tree. It got all over. Kimberly and I don't have tinsel for our tree.

Why did we get a tree this year? I dunno. It seemed celebratory, I guess, and the last few years have been tough because of Kimberly's string of health problems. But we also talked about it last year, and it sounded nice.

One long-running trouble with getting a tree was of course the lack of transportation. I know there are tree lots up Telegraph Avenue, over in Temescal. I was ready drag a cart behind my bike, with a tree strapped to it, and get it the couple of miles home that way. One of Kimberly's friends with a van volunteered instead. It was a lot easier, though possibly not as fun.

We had lights from a previous attempt to decorate the windows of our house. I also had three years worth of ornaments from Mayfair, since I've been on their Christmas list of late (including Catan resources #3-5)! So, some net-heirloom ornaments here too. And we got a bunch of crappy red-and-gold metal ones from Walgreens.

The tree looks nice.

Kimberly was encouraged to put some lights in the window, and they look nice too.

However, if past experience is an indication of future returns, we're going to picking the little plastic tabs used to hang those lights off our windows for the next five years.

And the cats, they haven't been that bad. No tree climbing. And really, we tempted them, by putting the christmas tree where the cat tree was a few weeks ago. No ornament smacking. The only problem is that Callisto keeps insisting on drinking the tree's water.

The Don't-eat-that cat has become the Don't-drink-that cat.

And that's our first Christmas tree.
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Kimberly and I both had a busy rest-of-Thanksgiving.

On Friday, we did our own things. Unsurprisingly for me, that meant a bike ride. I opted to bike the Lafayette-Moraga trail, which I haven't in some time. It's a beautiful trail that runs south of Lafayette and starts ascending into the hills as it approaches Moraga. There are some really nice vistas (and a nice waterfall, though I haven't seen water falling in some years). There also seem to be more autumnal trees on the trails east of the hills, which was another reason I was eager to see it.

Any who, it was a nice ride. I took Moraga Way back, which landed me in Orinda. I was surprised how short the whole trip was. 16 miles or something. That used to be a major ride, but no longer. I was also surprised how much ascent there is. I'm not quite sure the altitude of Lafayette, but I hit a height of 777 feet on Moraga Way, just above Orinda. That would be much of the way up to the ridge line if I were riding the hills on this side.

When I got back to Berkeley, I picked up K. from the movies, then we had dinner at Cancún, then we had groceries at Safeway.

Fun times.

On Saturday, Kimberly and I each found ourselves without our regular Saturday gettogether, so we opted to go out to Golden Gate Park together. We took BART to the N-Judah to an Andronico's south of the Park, where we picked up sandwiches, soda, and chips. Then we hiked in to the Park, to Fern Grotto, where we planned to eat our lunch.

Unfortunately, Fern Grotto was criss-crossed with cautionary tape and warnings about construction. I looked in, and the Fern Grotto itself looked fine. So we ducked under the tape, wandered into the Grotto, and ate on one of the pleasant benches. Squirrels looked over us the whole time, sometimes jumping toward us through the trees in little military formations before ducking back. But, we were unmolested as we ate (and later did some writing).

The construction seemed to actually be going on at the AIDS Memorial Grove, down at the end of the Fern Grotto, so sadly we weren't able to visit there.

We wandered the east part of the Park for a while, and finally decided to pay the admission to the Conservatory of Flowers — a little five-room hothouse erected in the 1870s. It was pleasant as always (and the warmest I'd been in weeks). I love the central room, with its high ceilings and stained glass. I love the water flowers room with its big pool. This time around the special exhibit was about the Pan-Pacific Exposition of 1915, and there were lots of models of it all. Such a pity that none of the Pan-Pacific buildings survived other than the Palace of Fine Arts (but it was all built poorly with temporary materials, so no surprise). Any who, neat little exhibit.

We exited the Park, then walked along the Panhandle, then decided to walk back to BART. That means we walked the Wiggle to Market. By the end of the day I was pretty tired! (Just over 10 miles or 23,000 steps according to my Fibit.)

Today was more restful. Well, other than a walk out to Holy Hill in the afternoon, then a walk to Ici for ice cream (and/or sorbet) in the evening.

But definitely less hustling around than the other days of the holiday.

So that was the holiday.

There was lots of eating out. There was lots of walking. There was lots of time spent with Kimberly. And there was a little bit of writing done.
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Today Kimberly and I did something we've never done for Thanksgiving before: we went out to eat.

Usually, we heat up a prepared meal at home or (more rarely) go to the South Bay and eat with family. But this year I didn't want piles of leftovers in the house for weeks, and K. wasn't up to big family gatherings (though ironically the big family gathering ended up not happening), so we decided to go out and eat instead.

We made reservations at Hs. Lordships down at the Berkeley Marina, and also invited along Kimberly's friend, C. And so we set out a bit before 4pm today to go and eat.

We were seated at a table directly overlooking the Bay. K. and I think it was literally the best table in the restaurant, because we were right at the window and the Golden Gate was pretty much straight out from us. Beautiful view, especially since we got to see the sunset.

The dinner was buffet, and it was quite great. There were tons of different options, and all of them were very good. The plates for the buffet were somewhat small, and that actually encouraged you to take small portions, which gave more room to really enjoy everything.

First plate was cornbread, biscuit, a few pieces of sushi, chilled crab leg, chilled shrimp, cocktail sauce, crab salad, calamari salad.

Second plate was ham, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, cornbread (that's the only thing I went back for), small piece of hard bread, brown mushroom gravy.

Third plate was chocolate cake, cookie that was chocolate dipped, a marshmallow dipped in a chocolate fountain, and a strawberry dipped in a chocolate fountain.

K. was unfortunately feeling sick, so C. and I were sitting around chatting, and I couldn't resist eventually going back for a little more desert. I had a very teeny chocolate cupcake and a slice of some marbled bread or cake or something.

Yeah, I overindulged, but Thanksgiving is pretty much the quintessential American holiday, which means it's all about overindulging. We could only have made it more American if we'd shot some guns, thrown some baseballs, drank some beer, and then thrown it all up.

(There was actually some throwing up at the buffet, but someone who almost made it to the bathroom. What's more American than over-eating, throwing it up, then going back for more?)

K. and I often marathon a TV show on Thanksgiving. The plan was to watch Wolf Hall, which has been on our Tivo since the start of the year. So early this morning we watched the first ep., and I was entranced by the movements of these historical characters (especially Cromwell, who walks around a lot), but K. proclaimed it the most boring hour of TV she'd ever watched. We'll finish it up together, but K. didn't want to watch the whole thing (or most of it) today as planned.

Fortunately, the world now includes streaming. K. recently signed up for a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, to get Prime shipping on any Christmas presents we order from them. So we also watched one of their newest series, Man in the High Castle, based on the novel (they keep saying "book") by Phillip K. Dick. I remember liking it quite a bit when I went on a Dick binge in the '90s. (Boy, that sounds wrong.) So, I was thrilled to watch the TV show too. We watched 5 eps over the course of the day, which is half the show. Good stuff. Very nice historical (alternate history '60s) feel, good directing, interesting characters, good writing. I need to reread the book to see what they used and what they made up. (Somehow that's the one book that went missing from my Dick collection, so I've ordered a new copy in the "Vintage" edition that almost all of my Dick collection consists of.)

Our Fitbits encourage us to be active, so in the evening we also went for an hour walk, up the hill to near the Claremont and back.

Probably the one way we failed in making this a quintessential American holiday.

We'd hoped to see some Christmas lights, given how early they appear nowadays, but there were almost none out. One lit house we saw was very sad. I described it as something like this: "Yeah, we have a Bay Window, but we'll only put lights on two of the three sides, and one will be blue, and one white, and only one will be blinking ... and it'll look just great." Or as I alternatively described it: "That looks like the sort of half-assed crap we'd do."
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Yesterday was the fourth of July, and though I'm not a big fan of mindlessly habitual patriotism, I do like punctuating my year, so when Donald and Mary invited me down to a BBQ before their regular alternate-saturday gaming, I opted to take them up on it.

And, we had a nice BBQ. Donald and Mary were there (of course) and their housemate Guy and Kevin, Chris, and Corina. And Chris Jr. It was fun hanging around with everyone in a non-gaming environment and just talking and relaxing. There were also delicious BBQ foods, including chicken and sausages and corn-on-the-cob, plus potato salad and a cookie.

A nice afternoon.

Of course getting down to San Jose was a challenge (and to be honest part of the reason that I decided to go down there). It's at the end of the BART line and Donald & Mary's house is about 20 miles beyond that. So I left at 9.30 in the morning to get there at 1 and I left the party just before 4 to get home by 8.

That of course meant biking. I totaled 48 miles for the day, which I think is the most I've ever biked in a day. My butt was really dragging for the last 8 miles or so, but I used to get exhausted after 30 miles, so getting exhausted every 40 miles is a huge improvement.

I was really tired as I pulled into Fremont (which is still several miles south of the Fremont BART station), so I made an emergency stop at a 76 Gas Station for a coca-cola Icee. First time I can remember having an Icee in years ... maybe decades. Oh, it was good in the hot south bay weather after much exercise though.

I rode down to San Jose fairly near the hills, and then I looped back up to Fremont (after the party) via the Guadalupe River. Along the way I touched upon all the trails and paths I could. There wasn't much that really impressed me, but there was some nice trails.

Lake Elizabeth is a pleasant little park just south of the Fremont BART station. I've seen it passing in cars many a time, but if I have ever visited it before, it was decades ago. It's got a nice lake in the middle and a lot of less-nice scrub around that. There are walking paths and picnic areas and even a water-slide. It struck me as a little less-cared for than I like and a little too suburban (mainly because huge parts of the park seemed to be taken up by miles of parking). But I might like it better if I visited it more. As it was, it was a nice way to travel through a mile or two of Fremont without having to ride the streets.

Railroad Avenue is a mysterious several blocks of off-road trail just past Lake Elizabeth. It run behind some condos. It also has a bridge over the major road there, which would be a great way to get to the Lake if it weren't just scrub at that point. I think perhaps this is part of an off-road trail that's mean to run all the way to the Fremont BART station eventually, but if so there's not much attention being given to it. Fremont generally seems to suck for their off-road trail work.

Hetchy Hetchy Trail is a little trail that starts just south of the Fremont border and mainly serves to connect together a couple of parks. It actually had a northern spur that I skipped because there's no way to get to it from the north! You have to go to the midpoint of the trail, and then go back. Sadly, that's the type of trail that people used to build, before they considered them for possible commute use. Even sadder, there's a clear space running through Fremont (presumably an old rail line) that the trail could continue on for many, many miles north, but ... Fremont.

Berryessa Creek Trail touches the south end of the Hetchy Hetchy Trail in Milpitas (or at least the south end of the park that the Hetchy Hetchy Trail peters out in). It is, I think, the worst trail that I've ever seen. All of the asphalt is cracked with waist-high weeds growing throughout. It's right next to a "creek" which is entirely enclosed in cement banks and which is filled with algae and weeds. Yuck.

Penitencia Creek Trail is the path I wanted to see because it runs behind the condos that my dad lived in many years ago, and I used to play on the trail when I was young. Sadly, it's not impressive. The eastern part runs through a park that I'm pretty sure wasn't there when I was young, but it was mostly scrub. The trail that I remember by the condos has a really nice part right next to the condos with lovely foliage (but you can't see the creek), then it ducks under the highway (just like I remember, but it's much lower than I would have guessed) and a few hundred feet past that it mostly peters out as it runs alongside some houses. It certainly seemed longer when I was young. Maybe the houses weren't there? I also could have sworn the path ran on the opposite side of the creek that it actually does, but I can probably attribute that to my crossing the creek and playing on the other side when I was young (and I now remember crossing on stones in the creek, but that may be confabulation). There's a second park on the opposite side of the trail, and it's nicer, with more greenery ... though its lake is totally dried up. Yikes!

Guadalupe River Trail is a rather magnificent trail that runs all the way from the Bay down to downtown San Jose. It's also a great commute trail, because it has underpasses that drop under every road you get to, meaning that you can go for miles and miles without stopping (except when rain floods those underpasses!). It was really nice where I got on, in downtown, but at some point I had to cross from the west bank to the east bank, and that wasn't as pleasant. The trail was on top of a big embankment (to keep those flood waters out), which means you got less river and more wind. Also: you see the backs of big industrial buildings to the east, most of which had nasty signs telling you they'd shoot you and feed you to the pigs if you dared to look at their property too long. Still, a pleasant ride.

Coyote Creek Trail could be the next big thing, but right now it's a big mess. Another Hetchy Hetchy Trail, which is supposed to connect Guadalupe and Coyote doesn't quite do so (so it was surface streets, past miles and miles of Cisco buildings) and then part of Coyote Creek Trail is still gravel (which is always awful to ride) and then it dumps you on to streets to cross over highway 237. It picked up north of 237 and is nicer up there, but then it stopped when it hit ... Fremont.

Overall, some wonderful trails. San Jose has really done a great job of creating trails in the 25 years since I moved away. If they can finish the Coyote and Guadalupe trails and connect them, they'll have a really impressive infrastructure for getting through the city North and South.

Also, I was reminded of what the streets are like in the south bay, as I rode them for at perhaps 20 miles of my ride. They're all huge with many lanes ... and simultaneously empty. Very ugly, but easy to use. And there were good bike lanes everywhere; in downtown San Jose those lanes were even buffered!

I expect I'm never going to repeat this particular ride. First, 48 miles was a lot. But also, BART is theoretically going to open a new Warm Springs station this Fall which will make all of San Jose more accessible to me by expanding the line several miles southward. Heck, that might be just enough that I could ride down to San Martin if I wanted (and ride back a separate day!)

I actually stopped and gawked at two of the BART stations under construction while in the South Bay. The Warm Springs station indeed looks like it might be done sometime in the foreseeable future, though I wouldn't bank on this year. The Berryessa BART station was clearly further from completion (though it's the one that will really open the entire south bay to me, and would cut a trip to San Martin down to a very reasonable 30 miles).

No one told me Donald and Mary had a pool. NEXT TIME!
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Suddenly it's Birthday. / The longest holiday. / When they say 'Season's Greetings' / They mean just what they say. / It's a season, it's a marathon / Mature eternity / And it's not over til it's over / And you end the yearly spree. [Apologies to Loudon Wainwright III]

I sit amidst the debris of birthdays past. Bags and tissue paper sit about the room, while birthday cards look on for the mantle. The week of birthdays is finally over for Kimberly and me.

It was a week of food. Top Dog on campus for me, a pleasant evening of reading aloud in the growing shadows beneath Stephens Hall. For some reason K. laughed every time she talked about how I'd decided on Top Dog for my Birthday dinner. But a Chicken Apple Dog with Chili sounded like what I wanted most in the world that evening.

Then tonight there was an early dinner with the Wiedlins at Chevy's, which everyone seemed very happy with. Well, everyone except Jason and Lisa who sadly did not attend, due to illness.

But, the alternative would have been worse: "Guess what we got you for your birthdays? VIRUSES!!! Happy Birthday!"

And yesterday was the pièce de résistance. K. and I spent the day in San Francisco as a birthday celebration with much eating.

We got fancy-dancy sandwiches from the Canyon Market to eat at Glen Canyon Park. We've enjoyed the park a few times, set down in a ravine which makes the rest of the City invisible, and this time we were pleased to see many of its renovations complete. There's now actually an entrance to the park and even better there are now nice new stairways climbing out of the park up its steep sides if you exit further down the Canyon.

(And, we did, climbing the entire canyon wall to get up to Diamond Heights. It was better than scrambling up scree. After that, we hiked several blocks to get to a bus line which took us to a bus line which took us to ....)

Ghirardelli Square is often the highlight of a day in San Francisco. What can I say? Chocolate fans! We also enjoyed sitting out at Aquatic Park, enjoying the view and the Bay and the breeze (and reading aloud). As I told K., the stone bleachers looking down on the park remind me of the public works of '30s and '40s and a sense of civic community from that time that's now gone. I can imagine neighbors coming together and sitting together on a balmy night in 1949 and feeling like they were part of something greater.

As for us, we had seagulls that I encouraged K. to feed with the other half of a fancy-dancy sandwich that otherwise would have gone to waste (Spoiler: They loved it!) and some rotten kids smoking pot and blowing it up toward us. (Smoke your pot? Cool. Give me a headache with your smoke? Not cool.) They were other folks too, but each group an island unto themselves.

A clear spring day / In a bright and balmy March-time; / We are alone, / Gazing from our stone bench to the cove below / On a salty silent shroud of calm blue water. / I am a rock, / You are an island. [With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel]

Fun Flash Fact: It looks like Aquatic Park was indeed a WPA project in 1936-1939. Thanks, Mr. Roosevelt!

Our Saturday in SF ended with a dinner at a hole-in-the-wall fish and chips place called The Codmother. Very good. Too much food. We gave those leftovers to homeless folks at the end of Market, rather than to seagulls.

Of course our birthday week also included one-quarter of a crappy play on Wednesday, and then a visit with the Wiedlins today which was somewhat more extensive than just eating. There was also talking and presents and cards.

I actually have multiple gift monies that I need to spend. I'd already decided to order some nice collections of comics with money from my dad and Mary (some "Morning Glories" deluxe hardcovers, and something else), so perhaps I'll look at books with money from my mom and Bob.
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Sadly, I am now at the end of my end-of-the-year holiday, which I usually take from Christmas to New Year's Eve. As planned, this year's holiday was spent almost entirely frivolously, with no major work done.

I had a few bike rides here and there. One out to Hilltop Mall on Saturday, whose main purpose was to eat a delicious chicken cheesesteak, and one down through Oakland Emeryville and back on Monday, whose main purpose was to get Dominion: Guilds at Endgame.

I did some organizing, but less than expected. All of my board games are now once more listed correctly on BGG, and all of my Dominion is sorted into a beautiful wooden case that Christopher got me for Christmas.

I did some reading, but less than expected. Mostly comics. I've also been working on Harry Connolly's The Way into Chaos, but it's slower and less enthralling than I'd hoped.

At my brothers' suggestion, I picked up Baldur's Gate through Steam, one of the D&D games that I'd never played before. It's a fun little CRPG, and I've played it here and there. No great amounts of time were sunk, but it's nice to have a game sitting around that I can play if I really want to do nothing.

Some dinner was eaten out more than once. Some movies were seen (Guardians of the Galaxy and Into the Woods.) Some naps were had. It was really, generally R&R. Which I suppose was the point.

Tonight Kimberly and I are going to see Our Town at Shotgun Players, and that will really be the end of the holiday (and the year).

Oh, and the Post-Action Report on my skateboarding injury: mostly healed. My shoulder is still twinging, but I'm mostly good otherwise.
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The Three Days of Christmas are past.

On Tuesday, Kimberly and I went out to have dinner with a few of her friends and exchange some presents. On Wednesday, we took BART down to San Jose, got a ride the rest of the way to San Martin, then had a nice dinner with my mom, Bob, and Rob. We stayed over, then today we had the full Christmas experience with all of my immediate Wiedlin family (meaning: plus Jason and Lisa, who'd been with Lisa's family on Christmas Eve).

There were three dogs a dancing. My mom's Hope and Dyna and Lisa and Jason's Colby. All medium-to-large dogs, and Hope and Colby are both quite rambunctious. Quite sweet too. I went out with my mom and Jason to a local park mid-day today and we did a 2 mile walk of the dogs around a little loop. Nice park, though the cooler looking paths were the ones that went up into the hills and to a lake on the other side.

There were three siblings a sleeping. All of my siblings are somewhat surprisingly staying with the folks again. Rob has been for a bit because his voting-related job is seasonal. But Jason and Lisa also somewhat abruptly decided to move back to San Jose after 10 years in Sonoma County and after just buying a house there a year ago. I'd just seen bits about it on Facebook, but was quite surprised when I got the the whole story. Fortunately my mom and Bob's San Martin house is big (and Jason and Lisa are actually splitting time between there and the Martinezes house, which is the sort of thing that would drive me insane, but to each their own).

There were three meals an eating. Szechuan shrimp stirfry on Christmas Eve. Scrambled eggs (with various veggies) and chicken sausages for breakfast today. Ham and mashed potatoes and crescent rolls for dinner tonight. All very tasty, and especially appreciated by Kimberly and me because we rarely get home cooked meals. Three in a row (plus turkey and a few accoutrements on Christmas Eve Eve) were a special treat.

There were two games a playing. As requested, I brought games down, and so we played some of them. Two games of Mondo last night, which everyone enjoyed even though I creamed them. And a game of Shadows over Camelot today where we got killed by Rob the traitor. (I was fairly certain he was the traitor too, but I let myself get talked out of accusing him.)

And there were presents under a Christmas tree. Rob got me Ghost Stories. Mom and Bob got me Trajan and Twin Peaks Gold Collection and a new variant of bike lights. Kimberly got me a neat TARDIS t-shirt and a couple of fun-looking books (on bikes and factual/reality TV). The before-christmas party had already resulted in fingerless gloves from Julia and brownies from Crystal. Two different stockings today provided five different colors of M&M(!) — brown, yellow, mint green, orange, and the well-beloved purple — as well as great new bookmarks created by Kimberly, and various toys, tools and other candies.

Kimberly and I left at 3pm on Christmas Eve and got home at 9pm Christmas. Between excited dogs, many people, long transit, and less sleep than usual, I am pretty exhausted. (Kimberly was already peopled out by mid-day.)

Fun times though, and nice getting together with family (and K's friends beforehand).
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The Giving Day. (Thursday.) Kimberly and I had considered whether we'd be visiting with anyone else for Thanksgiving, as that's been more of a possibility in recent years, but eventually opted to order some precooked food from Whole Foods for our Thanksgiving. The store on Thursday was crazy chaos, full of overprivileged people from Rockridge and Berkeley, which was the low point of the holiday, but everything went uphill from there. Mind you, there were some minor inconveniences such as the fact that Whole Foods is stupid enough to give you a frozen turkey breast on Thanksgiving morning (K. defrosted it in cold water) and that they give you a "stuffing kit" rather than stuffing (which turned out to be well worth the extra trouble, as it was delicious and I don't usually like stuffing), but they quickly passed.

Thanksgiving is one of the two days of the year when I promise myself "no work", and I managed to hold to it. So, I lounged about and ate and relaxed. Kimberly and I like to marathon a TV show on Thanksgiving and this year it was Arrow (we watched four episodes of season 2). Overall, it was a relaxing and enjoyable day with great food (with everything being better from Whole Foods than from Andronico's, where we've gone in the past, with the exception of the green beans, which had random plants mixed in with them, like they'd pulled them off the bush outside).

The Biking Day. (Friday.) Inevitably, I went for a long bike ride on Friday. 25.5 miles. I went out to Hilltop, watched people picket the Wal*Mart, then went back to Wildcat Canyon, which I rode up to Jewel Lake in Tilden. It hadn't rained in a week, but there were still thin layers of mud throughout the trail, because of the deep shading that some of it gets. This made the going slightly hard at times, particularly on the third major hill going into the park. I *thought* I might be able to bike up all three hills this time (this would have been a first), but the mud on the third stopped me.

Anyway, it was a great ride, and probably the last time I'll ride that (beautiful) trail until the rain stops. Then I was very pleased to see Jewel Lake back up to its normal capacity, rather than the small, shrunken thing it'd become in summer.

Kimberly has pointed out that with winter here, I can start riding over the hills again, toward Lafayette, Walnut Creek and the rest, as they're no longer too hot, as they are much of the summer. So there's plenty to look forward too even without the Wildcat Canyon Trail.

The Raining Day (Not). (Saturday.) Saturday was supposed to be a pleasant day spent at home watching the rain, but the storm was very disappointing. According to the RADAR, it mostly swung south of us, drenching San Jose. Oddly, the ten miles or so around Berkeley were the only parts of the Bay Area that got no real rain. Go figure. So Kimberly and I had a nice brunch at her favorite place (in part to cheer her up, because she'd been feeling lousy much of the weekend). We watched Thor 2 in the evening (which was disappointing, largely because it tried way too hard to be a second-rate Star Wars), then I got some remaining groceries for the week ... and by then it was raining a little.

The Play Day. (Sunday.) There was more successful rain today, and Kimberly and I saw Mary Poppins as I've already written.

Reading Over the Weekend. I've made good progress on The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. It's a bookstop fantasy. I've afraid that it pales a little in the face of the Malazan Book of the Fallen (which I recently finished) and even in the face of A Game of Thrones because the writing isn't nearly as dense or serious feeling. Still, it's an enjoyable read, and I'm really looking forward to seeing Sanderson's Cosmere come together in the years and decades ahead. Mind you, I'm only halfway into this one.

I also read all of The Knight of the Swords for my Michael Moorcock project and tackled two big comics that I'd gotten just for the big weekend: Valiant's Harbinger Wars was great (I really like the new Valiant, with its focus on great writers) and Marvel's Avengers: The Crossing is so far a lot better than I expected and a fun bit of '90s fluff (but I'm less than halfway into that 800+ page tome).

Writing Over the Weekend. Designers & Dragons is mostly done until next year; I'm trying to collect a few last bits of art, and then I think I'm done for January. I'm awaiting a new contract for writing on the WotC site, so it looks like that'll be next year too. I have 7 histories left to write for the year for DnDClassics, and I wrote 4 of them this weekend (while I was at Tilden), all on the Forgotten Realms. So, three to go. I wrote another short article for my Michael Moorcock project. I also wrote the last article of the year for Mechanics & Meeples (the last two articles for the year are another set of Tao koans and an analysis of Trains, due out in 1 week and 3 weeks, respectively) and updated one of my old articles (due out tomorrow), something that has stalled out for a full year. I'm looking forward to my personal TODO list continuing to wind down as the year does too. Meanwhile, tomorrow, I'm hoping to approach my Skotos work with a fresh eye, as having too many different pulls on my time has left me too disorganized of late.

What Am I Thankful For? Designers & Dragons is on its way out. Kimberly has new eyes, and we're hopefully on the way toward resolving other medical issues. Skotos is looking OK again. Good friends, good wife, good cats, good games, good books, good comics. Good night.
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This year, Kimberly & I opted to spend Christmas Eve & Morning with the Wiedlins, which turned out to be a great way to spend the holiday — all the best parts of the holiday, followed by some time on our own.

Christmas Eve, Bob surprised us by picking us up in Berkeley, and we had a nice ride to San Marteen together.
They had a surprise guest, Ulf, who is a former member of the flyball team my mom is involved with. He turned out to be a quiet, super nice guy, so it was actually nice to have him there.

His dog, Gandalf, was also present. A very sweet dog, though a bit unshaky on his feet because he's epileptic and taking a few drugs to deal with it. Poor dog! The house was absolutely filled with dogs, because my mom currently has three, and then there was Gandalf, and then when Jason and Lisa arrived, there was one more — all of them huge black and white dogs. There was much chaos at times, but most of the time, there were just tired dogs strewn about the house like so much driftwood.

We had a great dinner on Christmas Eve of ham, mashed potatoes, broccoli (with cheese), and crescent rolls.

Afterward, we played games. I'd brought 7 Wonders, since I thought we'd have a lot of people, but it turned out to just me four: me, mom, Bob, and Ulf. We played the first game entirely openly as I taught the rules to a non-Euro crowd, but everyone enjoyed it, and then we were able to play a second game with closed hands. It all went over well, and I've been asked to bring it again, now that folks were starting to figure it out.

Poor Rob was sick during the entire festivities, which is why he wasn't gaming with us. It sounded like a horrible flu, as it knocked him on his butt. Bob was also getting over a cold (from his recent visit to St. Louis) and Ulf was getting sick while we were there. So, it was totally a House of Plague. It'll be a Christmas miracle if Kimberly & I don't get sick now, for the rest of the holiday break.

Christmas morning we had a great breakfast (of which the grilled chicken sausages were the best part), and then we opened stockings and prezzies.

Then Kimberly and I had a long ride home, and we opened more prezzies.

And that was Christmas.

Among the prezzies I got were three games: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Bora Bora, and Expeditions: Famous Explorers. Thanks Chris & Mom.

I also got some cool books on biking. Pedal Revolution is a neat looking book what the more innovative cities are doing about biking, while Bike Snob mocks biking snobs. (Amusingly, both Kimberly AND her mom got me Bike Snob; we're returning the one she got, since dupes would be silly, and I've ordered _Caliban's War_ instead, a space opera book). Kimberly also got me Soon I will Be Invincible, a super novel that I'm certain I've heard of before. I look forward to them all — but especially Pedal Revolution. Thanks Kimberly (& her mom!). Oh, and I picked up a book that analyzes the first two seasons of nuWho and a new Gene Wolfe book with an Amazon gift cert: thanks Lisa & Jason!

There were also stockings full of candies and pens and other various things.

Overall, a great Christmas.

In the evening, I wrote all the section dividers for _Designers & Dragons_, since my schedule says I start editing today. So I violated my usual no-work-on-Christmas rule.

But it was pleasant enough work, and I indeed get it done.

For Christmas Evening, K. and I went out to see our traditional Christmas movie. Despite some reservations, we saw _The Hobbit 2_. Well, despite reservations, and because there was nothing else showing that sounded particularly great.

It was pretty mediocre/bad. I often found myself (correctly) predicting the lines, which always means the writing is badly cliched (including getting the climatic final two lines of the movie word-for-word; one of them even slipped out in advance of the movie itself, which made K. laugh). The writing was actually overall quite bad, between bad dialogue and a plot that often didn't make sense (if you looked at it too deeply) and which was mainly a bunch of boring ways to keep anything from happening.

Worse, it felt like Peter Jackson was purposefully satiring himself, especially when those elves started jumping around and killing orcs in ways that obeyed no laws of physics and really didn't matter much for the plot. The absolute worse was when the (totally hot) red-headed elf healed Kili and was surrounded by a big white nimbus, and the audience broke into spontaneous laughter which was clearly *not* intended by this supposedly moving and spiritual scene. That was the "elf orgasm" scene. Really, really bad.

I was also pretty annoyed that they took my favorite scene in the book, the barrel escape from the elves, and they entirely ruined it by turning it into a computer game action scene that went on so long that you were bored by the end (much like the similarly boring falling-through-the-orc-caves scene from the first movie).

In general, The Hobbit 2 felt to me like it was one of those C-grade movies like _Barbarella_ that people might enjoy and laugh at decades later, but for its campiness, not because it was any sort of quality movie. Whereas _The Hobbit 1_ felt stretched, this one felt stretched ... and poorly written besides.

Good things about it: the aforementioned hot elf chick (who was pretty much a Mary Sue); Smaug being totally scary (before he turned into a blithering buffoon who could have been tricked by a 7-year old); and a few bits about Watson's discussion with Smaug (before it turned into another dull, overly long action sequence).

Yeah, we'll watch the third, because we watched the first two. (It's now too late to stop.)


Dec. 4th, 2013 10:46 am
shannon_a: (Default)
I've grow increasingly unhappy about winter in the last decade or so. The cold seems more inescapable than ever. The lack of sunlight starts to depress me by January or February (though it's been better with my biking in recent years).

When Cobweb was particularly sick, there were at least two winters when I thought she wasn't going to make it to spring. But she did each time.

I learned that my Grandpa P., my mom's dad, died last night. He was a nice man, but not one that I ever knew particularly well. That's because my family left Missouri behind when I was just a few years old, moved all the way from the Midwest to California when I was 6 or so. I visited the grandparents some summers when I was young, but my Grandpa was still working then, so I spent almost all of my time with my Grandma. I mostly remember my Grandpa watching the TV, reading the newspaper, and smoking cigars.

He was an engineer who worked on the railroad. I know he took me out to see his rail yard once, when I was young, but I sadly don't remember that trip at all. He was in his 80s when he passed, so he'd been retired for a good long time if that's any consolation.

My American Indian blood (scant as it is) came from him. Of all my muttled heritage, it's the one little bit that makes me believe in something bigger than me. Mind you, it's probably also where I got my lactose intolerance and my baldness, so there you go.

So, Grandpa. Sigh.

Any other day I would have just written about Thanksgiving. It was generally a good holiday. Restful. And that's ironic, because it was full of busyness, including: (1) visit with Lisa & Jason; (2) visit with Eric R.; (3) hours of Downton Abbey; (4) Thanksgiving dinner; (5) A Little Princess at the Berkeley Playhouse; and (6) A Trip to Lafayette for Baja Fresh. Still, I was really getting into the hang of the whole vacation thing by Sunday — feeling like I was ready to go a few extra rounds.

The Lafayette trip was undertaken by me by bicycle. I've been feeling like I've been letting that go a bit in recent months, so I did the 20 mile ride over the hills and down through Contra Costa. Some of the steepest hills gave me problems, but it was overall easier than I expected. So I'm not quite out of shape yet.

I did surprisingly little writing over the weekend. A little bit of work on Designers & Dragons, the first draft of some histories for D&D Classics, but that was it. Oh, actually, I wrote a complete well-researched and long history for Wizards of the Coast too. Still, it was an amount of work that I could have gotten done in two days instead of four.

Which is probably why I felt relaxed at the end of it.

Fortunately, I've gotten enough lead on all my projects for this not to be a big deal. I'm done with WotC projects through the end of the year, and have just five more D&D Classics histories (including the two I first drafted). It's going to be mostly Designers & Dragons from here on out — which is good because I'm entering the home stretch.

Amusingly, I started writing a new book last night. It's a project for 2014, but I needed to get the first 1500 words out, so I did. It should be awaiting me after I'm done with Designers & Dragons (and have taken a few weeks break). It's an exciting project that I had previously pitched to a single publisher, then put aside when I didn't get a thumbs up. Now I'm thinking I could get a literary publisher to pick it up, and if not, I could always Kickstart it.

I guess life goes on ...
shannon_a: (Default)
And so the Holiday season has begun.

My brother Jason and sister-in-law Lisa stopped by to visit us Wednesday night. K. and I had opted out of the larger familial Thanksgiving because she wasn't up to it, but my sibs were kind enough to see us a bit on their way down to San Marteen. We met their very excited, very large boxer-pit-bull dog and talked for a bit (with the sibs, not the dog). Cupcakes were dropped off. It was nice seeing them.

My actual Thanksgiving on Thursday kicked off with a bit of busy-ness. First thing, I had to run up to Andronico's to get our deserts and sides. Sadly, they make you jump through hoops now, such as getting a slip for your food, paying for your food, and then having to come back to pick up your food. Their delivery was also lacking, as it included green beans in a zip lock bag. Not very class-ay. (But, the food was tasty as ever.)

After getting home, I then ran out to have a light lunch with my friend Eric R., who was visiting from New Zealand and stopped by on his way back to the airport (after visiting his parents for the last several days). We went to the only restaurant I could find open in Downtown Berkeley (The Original) and talked a bit. It was nice to see Eric, but it's been a long while since he's gone, and time has moved on.

After I arrived back home, I read for a while, then K. and I cooked our food (including our ham) up for a supper at about 4pm. While things were cooking and while we were eating we watch Downton Abbey, because K. and I have developed the habit of marathoning a TV show on Thanksgiving when we're home. The show was good (it was the back half of season 3) and the food was delicious ... particularly the ham. There are now huge piles of leftovers.

The rest of the day was restful. I worked on the two novels I'm reading (Shadows Edge, The Thirteenth Tale), plus a large graphic novel that I'd set aside for Thanksgiving (X-Men vs Apocalypse I). I usually have a "no work" policy on Thanksgiving, but I've got too much up in the air now, so toward the evening I started doing some editing and writing too -- knocking a couple of things off my Designers & Dragons TODO list and also making some notable progress on my next article for Wizards of the Coast.

So, now the holiday has come and gone, but K. and I still have a few fun days of other stuff planned and we have food (ham in particular) that will carry us into the next year ...
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
Gaming Anniversary. Last Saturday was Endgame's Anniversary party. I stopped by, though only for a couple of hours, as my free time continues to be very short. I got to see some friends and play a couple of games, so it was all good. Endgame, meanwhile announced that they're opening a little cafe immediately adjacent to the store. It's cool to hear that they're doing well enough to be considering expansion.

After my couple of hours at the party, I headed up to Lake Temescal to do some writing. I was delighted to discover that it was an extremely nice day. I'm officially calling it the last day of Summer, and I'd previously thought they were all gone. Anywho, I did the writing I had planned, and it was glorious outside, and I came home for dinner. A pretty typical Saturday of late.

Sick. Sadly, I also picked up my first cold of the year at the party, at lunch, at the lake, or somewhere in that vicinity, because I was coughing by Monday night. I think Tuesday was the worst of it: I couldn't put in a full day of work. I'm still sniffly now, but not as bad. And my energy is better. I'm hoping to be well enough on Saturday not to get tuckered out, as Kimberly and I have plans in San Francisco.

(For the moment though, it kept me from gaming the rest of this week; good thing I had that bonus Saturday gaming to carry me over.)

Halloween. And today is Halloween. Kimberly and I had planned to go get pie or something somewhere, to celebrate the season appropriately, but she unfortunately ended up with her stomach too upset to eat anything. So I went out and got some deserts at Berkeley Bowl, and I ate mine tonight (Double Fudge Cake), and she'll probably have hers tomorrow (Tangy Lemon Bar).

I was quite surprised when I rode to Berkeley Bowl to find the streets between here and there just jammed with trick or treaters. There were also several houses totally done out in Halloween regalia. I usually think of Berkeley as being pretty Halloween free. We gave up getting treats a couple of years ago because we tended to get 0-2 trick-or-treating groups and they were all mobs of overprivileged and overaged kids. The folks trick-or-treating south of us were more clearly parents out with their kids. It was very cool. As were some of the houses, particularly one that had smoke coming off its roof, and a light to make it look green! Someone else had a big open fire in front of their house.

So, that was Halloween. I also read the first 100 pages or so of Grendel Omnibus I. I figured it'd be appropriate for the holiday too, with its dark, noir feel -- but it's now being put away lest I overdose on stories of Hunter Rose.

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