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Welcome to week four, and how is the new year going?

I must admit to a bit of existential dread about the new president. I mean, surely we've had pathological liars in the White House before, though none so obvious. But it's really the combination of that lying with a high level of incompetence and a certainty that he's right that's scary. It's like Dan Quayle rose up to power, but if he was also a narcissistic, self-centered man-child.

The existential dread is the big picture stuff, and I look at the headlines with fear every morning at what he's done today. I've actually had to sign off of a few progressive mailing lists, because what they were sending out was pure FUD that wasn't helping my mood.

But it's the specific stuff that's even scarier. I'm the most worried about health care. Are my costs going to double in the next decade as the CBO has predicted if the Republicans have their way? Am I going to be out of insurance? The damnedest thing is that I'm pretty healthy. I mean, if I had such horrible insurance that it only covered catastrophes, my life probably wouldn't change. I can't even imagine folks that's not true for.

I've lost two of my familial elders since the New Year, heck since the inauguration: Bob's dad (my step-grandfather) and my Aunt Peg.

I probably knew Bob the elder better. We drove down to Los Angeles a number of times when I was growing up, to spend time with Bob's family, and he was the patriarch of the house.

I probably knew August Peg less well, because she lived out in St. Louis, but she was one of the family members delighted to see me when I visited summers long gone.

And all the losses diminish us. It's a somber start to the year.

OK, perking up.

It looks like our recent roof work was successful, as the torrential downpour of the last week didn't cause new leaks. Yay. And they're going to come back in to stucco over the wounds where our water heater was removed last year, after one of our last house problems (sigh!), which will be another thing off our list-of-stressors and our list-of-things-that-must-be-done-before-we-leave-this-house.

Our recent bathroom work was more so-so. I'm hoping that the handyman fixed the leaking problem we had since last year by grouting over the bottom half of the tiles in our bathroom. Our wall has definitely stopped leaking, I'm less sure about under the house. But the grout is much darker than what's on the other half of the tiles. And it looks really grainy. And there was grit all over the tiles. Days later we've got the grit mostly off, and I'm hoping a sealant will make the stucco itself look smoother and better. But the variegated look of the top and bottom of our tile is annoying.

Speaking of rain, I'm well and sick it. It's greatly impacted my exercise over the last few months. I've been getting 50k or so steps a week instead of my goal of 70k and my more typical excess of more than that. Oh, that's been partly the cold too. Altogether it just hasn't been that nice going out on weekends or evenings or whatever.

I've been trying to figure out alternative ways to exercise, but the success has been somewhat limited.

But, yay, we're heading out of our drought.

The state water regulators, meanwhile, talked about extending our drought restrictions during one of the heaviest days of rain after days of rain. Because they have no sense of irony. Or too much sense of irony. But that's generally their modus operandi.

Work has been good since the new year. I feel like the week off helped me get my mojo back, so I've been bouncing around, putting finishing projects on various projects that have been long standing, and feeling good about it.

I'm getting a bit more weighed down this week, because various people all want my attention. I suppose that's to the good, but less bouncy.

So that's 2017 so far. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Trump is the ugly.
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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).



Mar. 27th, 2016 10:46 pm
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Kimberly and I have birthdays that are four days apart, so we often end up having a birthday week with continued celebrations over that time period.

The year, that started on Thursday. I was working (because I'll be taking vacation soon enough), but Kimberly and I had a lunch out at Smart Alec's, then in the evening I had Mike B. and Eric L. over for Pathfinder ACG. It was a nice compromise between work and relaxation. And Mike was really sweet at gaming. He brought over tons of deserts made of dark chocolate, peanut butter, and mint, and even a new Miskatonic mug for me.

Kimberly and I usually have dinner out on Friday night, so this Friday I planned to go to Le Regal, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the area. Except it had gone out of business last October. Dammit. The funny thing is that Kimberly and I have commented several times on the business that's replacing it, "Le Halal Guys". Their Coming Soon sign says "We Are Different" on it, and that has constantly cracked us up because Oasis Grill, which also sells gyros, is literally two doors down. Anywho, we'd never realized that that the Halal Guys sign was in the old Regal storefront. There's some lesson in there about familiarity or contempt or some such crap. Looking at the storefront again today we realized that the old Le Regal icon is still (sadly) on the door.

We ended up going to Angeline's instead, a kick-ass Louisiana Kitchen. I'd been avoiding picking that for my b-day dinner because I'm not supposed to be eating spicy foods right now, but what can you do? (I at least ordered my shrimp po'boy without hot sauce.)

And then today we had the Wiedlins up to Berkeley. We hung out and talked for a bit then went down to Chevy's. (No spicy stuff? Well, mostly, I mean it was Chevy's.) Funny story: it was hard to find a restaurant that could accommodate the seven of us and was open on Easter. Kimberly suggested Giovanni's, but they burned down last year. (There's been a rash of burning restaurants in Berkeley this year.) We also tried La Med, but they were somewhat surprisingly closed for Easter. Then there was Remy's, where it took two phone calls and two people before I could even find someone to tell me they were closed on Easter.

But I did find Chevy's was open, so I made reservations back on Thursday, to make sure they would have a table for our party. And of course they'd lost them by the time we got there today. (Fortunately we were eating at 3pm, so they had space anyway. And fortunately no one seemed to have told them it was Kimberly's and my birthdays, as there was no singing at the table.)

Overall, nice weekend. Nice getting together with family, with friends, and hanging out with Kimberly. (And hiking on my own yesterday, of which I have already writ.)

I do feel like I ate just a little too much bad stuff over the weekend, between spiciness and caffeine (from chocolate), and I can tell it a tiny bit tonight, but hopefully I haven't set myself back as I'm pretty sick of feeling off-kilter and not biking.

But it was a nice few days of b-day.

That's the bulk of birthdaying, but we'll get a little bit of food tomorrow night in commemoration of Kimberly's actual birthday, then she'll be picking somewhere nice for next Friday.


Jan. 2nd, 2016 02:16 pm
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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.
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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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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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It began on Monday, which was of course my birthday. I took the day off work, and good thing because it was a glorious day. My plan was to bike up to Wildcat Canyon. There were some troubles on the way there, as my gear cable snapped less than a mile out of my house. Fortunately, the folks at Missing Link were willing to fix it right away. Willing, but somewhat less able, as my gear shifters largely boggled the mechanic working on my bike. He had to keep looking at instructions on the internet. Did I note I bought those gear shifters at Missing Link? Within an hour all was well and I was on the road again.

It was actually warm (nay: hot) when I biked through Wildcat Canyon, and overall was quite a nice ride. I hung out for a bit at Jewel Lake, reading and (almost) napping a while, then headed home.

For dinner, Kimberly and I went to Chevy's.

Then afterward we went to see Veronica Mars: The Movie. Fun movie, but unlikely to be of interest for non-fans. It continues our streak of good movies at two, following a good Winter's Tale for Valentine's Day, and before that the disappointing Hobbit 2: Elves with Swords last Christmas.

The birthdaying picked up in earnest on Friday night, which is K's birthday. It was less eventful than my own, but we went out for a very tasty dinner & dessert at Pasta Pomodero in El Cerrito.

Tasty food, but pretty bad service. Slow, slow, slow. Our waitress was also constantly worried about forgetting little things we asked for (like no onions in K's salad), and I think she honestly forgot about picking up our check. We probably did 45-50 minutes of reading of our current book (Prince of Chaos) while there.

Saturday, K. went out for tea in the city with a friend and I hung around Berkeley. I'd been planning a big bike ride to somewhere I haven't ridden before (I was considering a few different bridges), but I was foiled by rain. (Sadly, this was the second foiling: two weeks ago I was foiled by a hard drive crash at Skotos.)

Anywho, I had a fast food lunch in Berkeley, then hung out at the main library, mainly to have some time away from the house. Up on the top floor, I had wifi which made it easy to do the writing I was working on, and I also had a nice view of the Marin headlands when the sky finally started to clear.

Tonight the Wiedlins came by. We had a nice dinner over at La Med, some ice cream, and some chatting here and there. We also got some prezzies: I got some fancy bike shorts which may keep my butt from hurting when I do long rides; we'll see how they work out.

I've also been buying myself some birthday prezzies online. Unsurprisingly: books and comics. I'm most excited about The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell, a preorder that'll arrive in a few months. So the birthday times keep going and going!

In other news, this morning K. and I finally caught up with our backlog of TV that appeared when we visited Hawaii at the start of the month. Whew! (Since then, The Amazing Race, Once Upon a Time, and The Walking Dead have taped; but Sunday is our biggest DVRing day)

And we've started in on season 4 of Justified from Netflix. Nice to have one of best quality TV shows again!
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I haven't been writing here lately because life = stress. Most of this is work related, having to do with some problems that we're (hopefully) in the process of fixing, but still it's not very pleasant at the moment.

Part of this has to do with changing over everyone's health insurance to a variety of non-group policies. There's annoying bureaucracy, annoying not-knowing-what's-going-on, and annoying worry about everyone getting policies straight by March 1.

I've been feeling on and off crappy for the last several days, but then I have moments like right now when I'm 100% fine. So I'm guessing stress & undiagnosed allergies. Bleh.

The rain is coming down outside for what's now our fifth consecutive day of rain. It's been fairly constant too. I'm used to getting a couple of hours of rain and that's a rainy day, but it's been raining lots and misting when it's not raining since Wednesday evening, with just a few breaks.

Before the rains we were at about 19% of our expected rain-to-date, which made it one of the worst drought years ev-ar. The latest report I saw says we're at 39% and it doesn't look like it's been updated today ... so that's some pretty significant rain we've seen in five days. And also: yay.

The rain has been mostly pleasant too. I've been out biking in it three times (going to Endgame on Wednesday, getting groceries on Friday, and getting some dinner tonight) and it's warm enough and not-hard-enough that it verges on nice. I wish we got more of these Hawaiian storms and less of those Alaskan storms.

Had an interesting RPG session on Saturday. The players caught me by surprise with their focus on overthrowing the ruler of a nearby country and so the whole session was played by ear ... and came off well, I thought. The best part was that there was no combat the whole time: just politics and roleplaying (and some kingdom building at the end).

Some of the players were surprised when I gave out experience at the end because there hadn't been combat, and I said, "But you got stuff done."

The Wiedlins were all in Berkeley last night for a joint birthday party for Jason & Lisa. I BARTed back from Endgame (after my RPG session) and just met everyone downtown. We ate at Le Regal, which is one of my favorite restaurants in Berkeley. Tasty Vietnamese food. (Jason & Lisa had been favorably impressed by a previous trip there.)

It was good seeing everyone, but oh was I tired by the end (after RPGing + partying + feeling so-so from the start).

I've been preparing for our yearly trip to Hawaii, which is a bright spot in the future (by which time stressful things will hopefully be better). Mostly this means piling up books for the plane and for the time there. I try to save some really great things for the trip so that it feels like a real treat.

Bookwise I have Michael Moorcock's Sailing to Utopia (for a project I'm working on), Ben Aaronovitch's Broken Homes, and Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces. The last two should both be great — and I'll need to add a few more. Comicwise, I've got The Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin, Fairest in all the Land, Powers: Bureau, Thor: God of Thunder, X-O Manowar Deluxe, Manhattan Projects Vol. 3, The Unwritten Vol. 8, and Nowhere Men. I might still "trade up" some of those if I come up with stuff that looks more exciting, but 8 books has been a good number in the past.

I am definitely looking forward to that trip. And March.
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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
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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 ...
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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 ...
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So I dunno why, but last week generally sucked. I was feeling tired pretty much all week for I-have-no-idea-why. Just mentally and physically tired. Weak-ass cold? Undiagnosed allergies? Freaky fatigue? I dunno. It actually happens from time to time, but rarely for a week together. I'm going to see if I can get a referral to an allergist next time I see my doc, within the next month or so, to cross that "i".

But the week was subpar as a result. I did some research for _Designers & Dragons_ and some writing for the D&D Histories. But I just biked once (on Tuesday night, up to Temescal) and even opted out of gaming on Wednesday.

This weekend was mother's day, and we'd arranged to spend the weekend in San Martin with the Wiedlin family. We'd actually been planning this for over a year as a weekend get-together. I think it was a great idea, as we don't spend that sort of compressed time with the Wiedlins like we do with Dad & Mary, as we don't vacation to San Martin, so I'd been looking forward to it.

The main thrust of the weekend was theoretically board games. There were to be 7 of us (Mom, Bob, Jason, Lisa, Rob, me, Kimberly), and that's a slightly awkward number, but I managed to pack the big gym bag I used to carry with me to Endgame with 6 + 7 player games (under the theory that not everyone would be playing all the time). Kimberly brought a couple as well.

Unfortunately, Kimberly ended up largely unable to game, while there were many other times when my mom, Bob, or Lisa sat out for a game. We never got everyone to the table at the same time, so I could have focused a bit less on the magic "7" number. We played a good variety of stuff: _San Juan_, _Shadows over Camelot_, _Bohnanza_, _Winner's Circle_, _Samurai Sword_, and that may have been it. _Shadows_ was the one when we got almost everyone to the table; sadly, we lost (or, I suppose Lisa the traitor won).

There was also some great food to be had. Fajitas on Saturday night and a terrific breakfast of blueberry pancakes, bacon, egg, and terrific chicken sausages on Sunday morning. We ate the dinner on their recently built patio and it was really nice. Breezy and just slightly cool, pretty much the perfect weather (and a particular combo we get rarely up here in Berkeley because it drops so quickly from warm to cold most nights).

There was also lots of great talk. Jason, Rob, Lisa, and I talked a couple of hours into the evening on Saturday, something that I don't think we've ever done all together. All about TV shows and books, from stuff we read in high school to _A Song of Ice & Fire_. Kimberly, my mom, and I also had nice talks on Sunday morning as the rest of the house slowly roused.

The house is totally comfortable for everyone, which is no surprise because it's 2500-3000 square feet, I think. We had a really private room on the far west side of the house. Sadly, I didn't sleep that well, dunno why. Even after I finally fell asleep, I was then woken by hungry dogs at 7am, who thundered down the hallway outside. I do think I was the only one of the "kids" who got a shower on Sunday morning, though, so that was a plus.

We left earlier than I'd expected, on Sunday afternoon, in part because Kimberly wasn't up to the tripvisitas it turned out. Still, it was a good day (and a bit more), and something I hope we can do again.

I'd already scheduled today off work, because we'd planned to be in San Martin, and I figured even if that changed I wanted a day to recover. Turns out, that was a good idea. I was feeling overwhelmed but various emails last night that weren't even problems, but felt like they were. And I napped yesterday afternoon when I got back. Then I napped again yesterday evening before the Survivor finale. Then this afternoon too. Yep, tired, but less overwhelmed by the world now.

I did get out a little today too. Had lunch at McDs as some time to myself, then biked down to Cesar Chavez Park, when I hadn't been too for a while. I parked on the northwest corner of the park for a while, which has beautiful panoramic views of the Bay. Just gorgeous, with San Francisco and Marin both feeling like they're practically in your lap. There was a layer of overcast running along the middle of everything out west, sadly, but it was still nice.

I sat there for a while reading and started work on my first new history for the '00s book, but it was too cold and windy (especially windy) to work there comfortably for long, so I returned home via Black Oak Books and the new Southside Library and then (as already noted) napped.

Black Oak disappointed me. I'd noted previously that they were marking hardcovers at online prices, which generally meant marking them way down rather than trying to get 50%. It endeared me too them. Now they're doing the flipside and marking their used comic TPBs way up, I have to assume also based on prices they see on the internet. So most of their TPB costs ran from 70-130% of cover, which just pissed me off, because it felt like they were ripping their customers off. I almost bought some Scalzi paperbacks, but ultimately decided not to even pick up their $.50 _Sword of Shanara_ because I didn't want to put money into their pockets based on their newest business decisions. So, probably not going back there.

The new Southside library is nice. Not necessarily that great from the outside, but the inside is beautiful with tall ceilings and lots of windows. Makes it all look so much airier and more welcoming.

And that was the 3-day weekend in this corner of Appelcine land.
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Today was my 41st birthday. (Sigh!) However, I biked 20.5 miles for it, which I consider an accomplishment (especially since the first part of that involved a ride up to 1400 feet).

Early in the day I made my first ride up upper Tunnel Road since my sickness. I made it all the way up to Sibley Volcanic Park (it took some work!), and this time I decided to ride the Ridgeline Trail, which I had failed to ride in December or so because it was horribly muddy.

Well, it turns out that the ride wasn't a lot easier in the absence of mud. It's really a horribly laughable "multiuse" trail. Several bits of the 0.9 mile trail are virtually unridable due to extremely bad maintenance and extreme grades. (I'd see a sign that said "Downgrade; reduce speed" and I'd get off my bike because it meant "So steep that you will die" in at least some of the places.) When 0.6 or so miles in I hit a creek cutting across the path surrounded by (wait for it!) mud, I just had to laugh. I carefully skirted several muddy patches after that, then I just started saying "F*** it" and riding right through.

I should say the trail was a very attractive wilderness ride ... but one I won't be doing again.

At the other end I descended to Fish Raunch Road ... and suddenly discovered that I was in Orinda, looking over the back end of the Caldecott Tunnel. I let out a woot as I've been wanting to get over the hills for ages, then realized that where I'd gotten was entirely worthless. There's literally no way to get the rest of the way down the hills into Orinda if you're a bicycle (or even if you're riding a bicycle), because the only route downward goes to 24.

So instead I went up Fish Range Road (300 feet of ascension in about a mile), mostly walking because it was somewhat steep and I was tired by this time, then came back down on my side of the hills via Claremont (very fast!).

It was a proper birthday adventure, and a lot of fun other (perhaps) than that Fish Raunch trudging.

Today's other riding was down to the Bay and along the Bay Trail with Kimberly. Our destination was Chevy's. I had tasty pork fajitas and a strawberry margarita the size of my head (practically the only alcohol I've had in years, but I'm no longer taking Nortriptyline whose efficacy can increase with alcohol, so I felt able to let loose with one large, tasty, and slightly intoxicating drink).

Fun times. Good food.

The other major birthday happening of the weekend was the visit with the Wiedlins yesterday. They came up for dinner (after my afternoon RPG). There was good company, excellent vietnamese food, and good ice cream. It was a nice evening, even after the busy-ness of roleplaying day (which involved biking to Oakland and back — which I suppose brings my birthday weekend biking up to 30+ miles).

I got a weed wacker birthday present from the Wiedlins, which is more exciting than it sounds, as it's cordless, and the stupid cord is perhaps 50% of my hatred for weed wacking. I suspect it's a much superior model to the crap I had too.

I've also done a lot of writing & editing for Designers & Dragons over the weekend. I think I've got a rough plan in place that will get the third book done on the 31st, when it's due, but we shall see.
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Monday — The Hobbit Kimberly & I usually have movie and dinner on Christmas, but since we had other plans this year, we did that on Christmas Eve. In many past years, we've seen great fantasy flicks (Lords of the Rings Harry Potter, Narnia) — and als Golden Compass, hich was fantasy and was a flick, but wasn't great — and so we were disappointed when those movie series came to an end and/or moved to summer. Thus I was thrilled to see the old tradition become viable again this year with the release o The Hobbit I. We even read alou The Hobbi toward the start of the year to prep ourselves.

And we were both quite pleased with the movie. Great characters, great directing. I loved the addition of the Meeting of the Great to pu The Hobbit n better perspective with regard t The Lord of the Rings; I loved the inclusion of songs, particularly the two dwarf songs, which were terrific; and I loved the appearance of Radagast and the whole Necromancer subplot (please, let that be movie #3 as some sites hinted at a few years ago!). Some of the fighting went on too long, especially in the goblin mountains, and I thought some of the special effects looked poor, especially in the first part of the movie — which might mean it was an artifact of the faster frame rate. I'm also unconvinced with the whole pale orc plot, as they haven't done anything interesting with it yet.

After the movie we made out traditional trek to the great local Vietnamese restaurant to find it closed. It's really a Christmas tradition (including the bit where we discover that it's closed). We ended up having bento boxes at the Japanese restaurant formerly known as Manga Manga.

Tuesday — The Wiedlins. n Christmas Day proper, Kimberly, Lucy, and I opened our presents in the morning. I got some great t-shirts from Kimberly, all three of which have already been worn (ninja biker, kiddy dungeoneers, Van Gogh TARDIS). There was also candy and other neat stocking stuffers, including neat bookmarks, a little A-Z book, and a CD that Kimberly had made. Lucy got a laser pointer which sh loves nd a harness which she tolerates (and which we hope to soon take her outside with).

We got down to San Martin pretty late in the afternoon afterward, and there were more presents there. I got some biking gear (a new windbreaker which proved great when I tried it out on Wednesday; amazingly warm and amazingly breathable, especially since it's waterproof; and some gloves) and also some more Abercrombie books and some warm house slippers which have been put to great use. There was great Ping Pong and terrific food and good company. I think there were about 17 people this time, including my siblings and Bob's siblings in main. As has been the case in some recent years, we drove down to San Martin with Andy & family and returned with Jason and Lisa ... and Kimberly slept on part of the way back.

Wednesday — The Rest. And on the third day we rested. I took myself out to lunch, picked up pending packages, and did lots of writing and editing. In the afternoon, I took my bike out for a ride, as I try to do every couple of days. The weather was beautiful, so I decided to try and replicate my ride up Tunnel Road to Sibley. The ride was harder this time, as second rides often are, but very doable. Once I got up the hill I headed over toward Montclair again, then headed back down to civilization. Then there was more writing and editing in the evening. Yup, that's my definition of rest.

Thursday — The Appels. Yesterday, my sister Melody and her guy Jared came up for lunch. We talked, ate lunch at Bongo Burger, visited an art store together (Jared being a artiste), and talked some more. Overall, a good time was had. Melody was kind enough to give us each gift certificates at Amazon. Mine went to purchase th Doctor Who aHistory ook — which is a timeline generated from 40 years worth of show,  audio, and books. I've heard great things about it, so am looking forward to consulting it as I continue reading through the 7th + 8th Doctor book series.
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Had a big Thanksgiving yesterday, down at my mom and Bob's new San Mar-Teen house. It's the first time that Kimberly & I have been to a big family Thanksgiving in many a year.

It was the usual effort to get down to San Mar-Teen, which is 20 or 30 minutes further south than the old San Jose house. We left for BART at about a quarter to 11, got picked up by Jason in Fremont around noon, and pulled into the house about ten to 1. So it goes. Kimberly & I started a new Andrea Barrett short story while at the BART station, and then I read Moon over Soho (a British urban fantasy) and Spike: The Complete Series (a Buffy comic) on the way down. 

There were 18 people in San Mar-Teen all told: Kimberly & me, the parents, Bob's Dad & Marge, Jason, Robbie, and Lisa, all of the immediate Martinezes, and some friends of the Martinezes (Greg, Deirdre, and their two well-behaved children, who were thus clearly not from the Berkeley-Rockridge area). An awful lot of people, but the new San Mar-Teen house is large enough that folks can spread out and it doesn't seem like such a big mass of humanity. Even more surprising, their dining room is big enough to seat 18(!), with perhaps not enough space between the two tables.

Quite a bit of Ping Pong was played over the course of the day, and much to my surprise I discovered that I still have most of my Ping Pong reflexes, including a wicked ability to drop the ball at the very back-right corner of the table. Mind you, every time I tried to do something fancy like spin the ball or slam it, I came up short. But pretty soon I learned not to try those things, and I won more games than I lost. It was fun and made me want to find a Ping Pong club in Berkeley, as we'll never have enough room for a Ping Pong table in this house. Maybe when I'm done with Designers & Dragons next summer. 

Note to self: Berkeley Table Tennis Club.

Lots of talking. Everyone there is good folks. Good eating with all the usual fixings and tasty chocolate chip cookies for desert afterward. (There were pies too, but chocolate chip cookies are among my favorites.) We have a bit of leftover that we brought home. (I'm actually pretty happy not to have the *huge* piles of leftover that we get when we Thanksgiving at home.)

All together, very nice!

Lisa & Jason gave us a ride all the way home from San Mar-Teen to Berkeley, which makes it only a 1.5 hour or so trek. 

Exhaustion afterward (though I actually managed to edit another chapter of Designers & Dragons in the late evening, the one on Columbia Games for the '80s book).

And here's my list of stuff to do for the holiday weekend:

  • Finish current work on TSR article for Designers & Dragons (finished Wednesday night)
  • First-draft Leading Edge Games article for Designers & Dragons (got pretty comprehensive notes together Wednesday night)
  • Write RQ6 review
  • Write Star Trek: Catan review
  • Prepare next Knucklebones article for Mechanics & Meeples publication
  • Ride bike! (Iron Horse Trail?)
  • The Sound of Music (Sunday)
Whew! That Star Trek: Catan review may get delayed, but we'll see ...
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Took a long trip down to San Martin and back today to celebrate Rob's graduation from SJU. We were lucky enough to get rides both ways from some of Bob's relatives. His brother Andy (and family) drove us south, then about 3.5 hours later his cousin Mike (and family) drove us north. We had a good time talking to folks both ways; I especially enjoyed a long chat with Mike, as he's one of Bob's relatives that I always felt the closest too. We (again) made some totally vague plans with Mike (and family) to try and bike together in Contra Costa County, which is between our house and his.

The actual party was at my mom and Bob's newly purchased and newly renovated house. It was very nice and had a great one-story floorplan, mostly along one axis, which meant that it was a really long house from the master bedroom and guest room on one side, down to the garage on the other. Which is cool because it made a lot of the separate areas feel very private. Pretty big too, with the master bedroom even having a whole separate sitting area and the garage being absolutely enormous. And three fireplaces! We were envious of all the great storage space (even including some attic above some of that humongous garage). They also have three-quarters of an acre of land, with some of that laid out as a (huge) backyard and the rest mostly dirt (and rock!) right now, with the plans to turn that into a large garden and a training area for my mom's dogs.

The party had 20 or 25 people in attendance: the usual mix of Wiedlins and Martinezes, plus several of Rob's school friends. It was, as always, good to see many folks that I know, think fondly of, and see infrequently.There was ping pong and talking, but the highlight of the party was surely the dinner. There was excellent barbecued chicken, but my mom also made several salads which were all great: an olive, tomato, and artichoke heart salad; a fruit salad, some Tabbouleh. Oh, and extremely fresh chocolate-covered strawberries, grown on a farm just a few blocks over, I believe. We got baggies of many of those to take home, where they'll nicely replace the veggies I often have with sandwiches at lunch.

All around, a nice day, though both Kimberly and I were pretty exhausted when we got home. By then I'd been socializing for about 6 hours straight, from 2.30-8.30 and I find that tiring. Whew!  
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Had the Wiedlins up here on Sunday for a typical birth day get together. We had dinner at La Med, then cake at home. There was much enjoyable talk with all the relatives. Kind birthday checks were also offered. As usual, I took the birth day gifting as a chance to get stuff I wanted but which might have been a bit more expensive than I'd usually put for. So, I got About Time 1 (so I can read about the early Dalek stories, which I'm currently reading novelizations of) and Songs of the Dying Earth and Moorcock's non-fiction collection London Peculiar and a few other things. I've still got about half the money to spend and am going to see if anything strikes me 'specially in the next week or so.

Since then, it's been back to work, except with much cake, as we had the remaining half of the delicious chocolate cake that the Wiedlins brought, plus the remaining super-rich cakes Kimberly and I had gotten at Berkeley Bowl. Whew.

Among the stuff I've been reading lately is A Game of Throne by George R.R. Martin. It's my third read, I think. I'm amazed how damned good the book is. Martin writes each chapter like a little short story with a beginning, middle, and end. Each chapter also gives us a strong moment of revelation or change, usually encoded right at the end of the chapter. The craft is just superb. I dunno how the same person who has written OK Wild Cards stories and nothing else that I know of super note is also writing some of the best-crafted fantasy out there.

Tomorrow: the birthday celebrations continue, as it's Kimberly's actual birthday. Delicious food is planned. At one of my top 3 restaurants. Stay tuned.
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While we were watching The Walking Dead this evening, Cobweb suddenly got up and started pacing around the room. Several times she went over to the catnip towel and sniffed it. Once she even clawed at the edge, presumably trying to look for catnip under the towel. This is all much more active behavior than she's shown in a few days.

After the show, I nuked a bit of the boiled chicken breast for her, and she wolfed it down. It wasn't a lot, but she did spend several minutes eating it, and even stole some from Munchkin when I tried to give Munchkin the rest (thinking Cobweb was done).

We're far, far from back to normal, but this is the most (the only) encouraging thing we've seen in a week. The most eating we've seen in days.

And I have to guess the cause is either the 24-hour anti-nausea she got at the vet yesterday or the Pepsid AC she's been getting for 3 days now. I'm hoping the latter, as that's the easier answer, and one that will keep her on a curve back upward.

Fingers crossed.

Saw family today too. My brother Jason's birthday is in a couple of days, so we celebrated it with Jason, Rob, Lisa, my Mom, and Bob, at a BBQ place in North Berkeley.

Good food. Good company.

Recently learned that my folks are moving south a bit, so they're packing up stuff from the house. As a result I somewhat unexpectedly came home with baby blankets, afghans, and rugs from my childhood nursery. To a certain extent, it's stuff I don't want. But it's also deeply meaningful as it was handcrafted by my Aunt Judy, my Great Grandmother, and others. I'm trying out the silly rugs in my office. (They were the only things I remembered: one shows a raccoon in bright yellow, orange, and brown; the other shows animals going to Noah's Ark.) The afghans have gone straight to the love seat in the sunroom, which the cats (particularly Lucy) use sometimes.

Really hoping things are heading upwards. I've had enough stress for the year.

More rain. Yay.
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Ah, the vacation, she is gone. Which is a shame, as I got very relaxed, calm, and comfortable after a week of worrying about very little. I'll just have to try and hold on to that. (So far, fairly good.)

Jason & Lisa. Last night we had my brother & sister-in-law over for a games night. I'd been wanting to do this for a while, but Jason actually was the one that suggested it, as he has time off before going back to classes (which I suppose makes it still vacation from his point of view). I suggested a handful of possible games, and Lisa somewhat excitedly said that Teamplay Ticket to Ride Asia sounded fun. So, that was what we played.

It was my second experience with the team play rules, and if they weren't as amazing as they were the first time, it was only because they weren't so wonderfully and surprisingly novel. It still was a totally great way to play the game. Lisa and I lost to Kimberly and Jason. Tactically, it was because Kimberly took a chance and drew tickets on her last turn, which gave them the 14 points needed to win (10 from tying us for most completed tickets, 4+ for the ticket), but strategically it was because they had a superior train route that hit three corners of the board.

Overall, good fun.

With real-life running again, I'm reminded that I've been wanting to write about a few ongoing things ...

Cobweb. Our faithful grey tiger-stripe is still with us. It's been 10 months or so that we've been giving her subcutaneous fluids on a daily basis and that's been enough to keep her system going. If anything, for me at least getting her to eat is the larger battle to be fought every day, as we tend to lock her up with food for an hour in the afternoon, then feed her again in the evening. And, it's not just the battle of placing her back in front of the food several times, but also figuring out what she'll eat on a weekly basis as she's constantly tiring of one food or the other.

Despite all that, Cobweb is either continuing to lose weight or else has landed at a lower weight than I'd like, I'm not sure which, but her ribs are relatively pronounced again. We're trying not to worry about it too much and to continue on with life. It works for the most part.

Trees. So I've written very few updates about our exciting trees out in front of our house. Sadly, the windstorms in December stripped them of all their leaves. I just hope they return with the Spring. Because of our unusually dry Winter I've been out watering them once a week, which I didn't expect to have to do for several months. Go figure. I've also been doing my best to keep all grass/weeds a foot or two out from the trees. (I'd hoped to keep the whole front strip clear of foliage, but now I must laugh at that; in any case, the care guide for the trees said to keep this amount of space free, so it should be good.)

Games. Went to Endgame today, and had a good time. It marked the start of my new gaming theme for 2012. Not as exciting as the Year of Knizia, the Year of Alea, or the Year of Wallace, but in '12 I plan to "PLAY OR DIE". Basically, I want to get old games to the table to be replayed. If I don't really like them when I replay them or if I don't manage to replay them at all, then I'm going to consider really hard about putting them into the '13 Endgame Auction.

(OK, some will be saved because they're great games or they're set aside for my RPG group when appropriate or they're tiny card games, but there are lots I'll be applying this criteria too.)

Tonight I actually played two games from my shelf. Streetcar was probably never in danger, as I play it at least once a year and love it. Atlantis might have been. Surprise, surprise, I rediscovered that I really like it too. So, two games that won't DIE.

And finally, a special holiday editions of companies-that-suck.

Roku. Our Roku was our worst tech purchase of '11, and really one of my worst tech purchases ever. For those who aren't familiar with it, it's a box that you put on your TV to pick up streaming. I wanted it for Pandora streaming and Netflix streaming into our Family Room. The problem: its networking SUCKS. In our first weeks, I found that it usually dropped off of Pandora after just a few songs. I was about ready to send it back (as it was still in its trial period), but then we started watching some Netflix TV shows and that mostly worked OK.

Well, except about 1 time in 10 when it'd totally lose its networking and we'd have to reboot it to get it working again.

That's gotten considerably worse lately, now that we've used it for 6 or 9 months. Lately, 1 in 2 times we try and watch something, it just locks up during some point of networking. Sometimes it can't find the wireless hub (about 12 feet across the room) and sometimes it can't connect past the hub to the internet. And, even worse, I can reboot everything and it still doesn't work sometimes. 

Very frustrating.

I'm about ready to toss the piece of crap out of window to see if it'll explode when it hits the street. More notably, we're also considering dropping our Netflix streaming since we don't have a device that adequately shows them (actually, we have several, but they're all computers, iPhones, and iPads, not really conducive to group viewing).

(I should see if I can get our Tivo linked up to Netflix, but I was having problems with the wireless [again], though in this case it's more understandable because it's on a  different floor.)

Westfield Comics. These guys have been in mail-order for a long, long time. I remember ads from them in Marvel Comics from the '80s or so. So, I'm surprised how tone-deaf they are about Internet orders. Basically, I tried to order a big omnibus from them a week ago, on the 29th. They waited a full week to process my order, then told me they didn't have it. Which is pretty unacceptable in itself. But the cherry on top was the fact that they took my money (which may have been illegal, as they did not actually have the item to sell), they did not issue a refund, and instead told me they'd given me credit at their store.

Fortunately, I always pay relatively unknown companies with Paypal if I can, and thus I have no doubt that I will be getting a refund, if the idiots at Westfield Comics like it or not.

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