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My new project: 'Round The Table Nov. 19th, 2013 @ 07:09 am
Hey All!

I know it's been forever since I posted here, but I've fallen out of the blogging habit. Part of the reason for that is personal, part of it laziness and part that I've been really freakin' busy.

Busy how?

I'm quitting my job of 23 years and opening my own game store!

The name of the place is 'Round The Table, and it is a full-featured, large inventory game store, carrying such awesome titles as Telestrations, Hanabi, The Hobbit, Ogre, Cards Against Humanity and Cranium. At the same time, it's all a beer bottle-shop, carrying over a hundred different varieties of craft beer and cider.

It's located in Lynnwood, Washington, at 7600 196th St. SW, a straight-shot off of the 196th St. exit from I-5. We've got great hours, a great team and lots of fun. Check out our calendar of events, our games ready-to-play and our beer list!

Website: http://rttgamepub.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/Round The Table

Current Location: Lynnwood, WA
Current Mood: excitedexcited

A Very Special Day Feb. 21st, 2012 @ 09:17 pm
What’s so special about today?  That my daughter Becca was up much of the night with a stomach flu?  The my wonderful wife Christine was not-so-wonderfully sick as well and aching all over?  That I played a tremendously entertaining game of Crusader Kings II with my friends Layla and Nick?  That I watched a marathon of Season 2 My Little Pony, as directed by the camped-out -on-the-couch Becca?

Nope, none of those, though they did all happen today.  What’s special about today is that I received the first copy, the proof copy, of Ellis: Kingdom of Turmoil.

What is Ellis?  It’s a fantasy roleplaying game I’ve been writing for a while.  A long while.  I just went back and looked at some of my old files.  The earliest file I have is dated February 5th, 2003.  So, it’s been 9 years.  Nine years.  This from a guy who has a hard time focusing on one project for a long time.  Or who did.

But it’s 604 pages.  Written by me (with some fiction written by Chris).  280,000 words.  Laid out by me.  Art chosen by me.  Mapped by me and then the map re-drawn by a friend.

But it’s done, and I can’t help but look back and remember various steps along the way.  Working out all of the world building and astronomy while being driven through the jungles of Central America.  The early playtest session when I forgot to mention that the opponents were all wearing full plate armor, and no one could figure out why they couldn’t damage them.  The infamous playtest session where we spent two hours of game time running, just running to the fight.  The week during year-end inventory at work where I decided to completely scrap the game rules and re-write them to better mesh with the setting.

I made some very good friends through Ellis, and have had a lot of fun playing it with strangers as well as regulars. I cherish those friendships very much.  It’s come between me and those I love and has distracted me from those who are most important to me.  I regret that very much and am devoted to making amends for it.

If I had known how much work doing everything would be, I would never have done it.  It’s a trap, really.  Some many different little tasks and each one within my skill-set to do (except for the custom art).  And since I was able to do it myself, why not do it myself and save money.  But that’s where the trap is: there are so many of those tasks, it’s actually quite overwhelming.  But I did it.

It’s been such a large part of my life for the past nine years that I’m sure that life will seem strange without it.  But at the same time, I have to say that I am eager to be away from it.  I have other projects I want to work, other things to give my imagination and energy.  And the same tenacity that has kept me focused on finishing Ellis has forced me to ignore other things that I haven’t wanted to ignore.  So here’s to opening a door onto a new room of my life.

But at the same time, I’m not actually done.  I have some follow-up stuff to do -- write and adventure, design a website, make and buy ads, sell the darn books....

So that’s where things are.  Though, whatever else I might be feeling or thinking, I feel so accomplished, so proud.
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

2012 is the year of Ellis: Kingdom in Turmoil. Jan. 11th, 2012 @ 04:33 pm
2012 is the year of Ellis: Kingdom in Turmoil.

What is Ellis?  Ellis is a pen-and-paper roleplaying game that I have been writing for the last couple of years.  It is a setting, Ellis is the name of both the capital city and the kingdom where the game takes place.  It is also a set of game rules, the +3 System, specifically designed for this setting.

What makes it special?  Why does the world need another rpg?  Ellis is about roleplaying, about playing a character.  Characters are detailed, but not just details about combat -- when you make a character you make his or her whole life. 

And Ellis is a world that focuses on real people, doing real things.  No wizards destroying armies or priests raising the dead.  But people -- some important, some common -- trying to succeed in the world, trying to resolve conflicts with their neighbors, trying to keep true to their own morals.

Combat is quick with a fair amount of detail.  It encourages movement around the battlefield, and allied fighters assisting one another.  There is no magic, though you may encounter evil witches or evil demons.  But even those foul abominations must bow to the power of the church.

Ellis is a kingdom in turmoil.  The old, beloved king, Heinrich, has died and his three sons have begun fighting over his land.  Greedy lords, kept in check by a strong ruler, are quick and eager to take advantage of the dispute.  And an ancient evil, responsible for Heinrich’s death, is loose again on the world, ready to drown the world in blood.

And it’s almost done.

Yes, really.

The first week of the new year were busy at work doing inventory, but since that was over, I have been devoting a great deal of my time tackling the manuscript.  And it’s nearly ready to go to the printer.  The rules are all playtested and working.  The setting and fiction are fully edited.  The interior art is nearly done, with only a handful of pictures still due to come in. 

And the maps. I’m still waiting on the maps, but I’ve been in frequent contact with my cartographer and I’m confident it will be done by the end of the month.

How close am I?  Very.  I could finish this weekend.  Figure the week after just to make sure.  Very close.

Which has spurred me to think: What’s the next step?  After thinking about it, I think it looks like this:

Sunday 1/15
Print the last proof copy, examining it for layout errors and image problems.

Monday 1/16
Get the Ellis Kickstarter posted with list of perks and video promos.
Talk up the Kickstarter on RPG.net and RPGgeek.com and elsewhere.  Continue this for the next few months.
Make website for EllisRPG.com

Tuesday 1/24
Have the manuscript completely ready (except for maps) and Kickstarter perks.

Tuesday 1/31
Have maps and cover done?

Monday  2/6
Kickstarter ends

Tuesday 2/7
Finalize manuscript and send to printer

Friday 2/10
Proof returns from printer

Monday  2/12
Send revised proof back to printer (if needed).

Thursday  2/16
Second proof returns from printer.  It’s perfect (hopefully!) and I place an order.

Friday 2/17 through Sunday 2/19
RadCon.  Promote book and show off proof.  Sit on RPG panels.

Tuesday 2/18 
Books Arrive!

Or something very similar.

Let’s see if I can keep to it!
Current Mood: optimisticoptimistic

Autumn Planting Festival, or What I Learned From Killing a Chicken (part 3 of 3) Oct. 17th, 2011 @ 05:23 pm
And so, I was the first one up.  I reached in and after a little bit of shuffling around managed to get ahold of one of the hens.  We decided to do the rooster last, since he would likely be the hardest to kill and we wanted to refine our method. I walked over near the table and began swinging the chicken.  Then as I contemplated bringing the chicken’s head down on the table, I realized that I was swinging it underhanded, so I was going the wrong way.  Stop and try again, swinging overhand.  Around ... around ... around ... bring it closer to the table ... miss ... around ... closer still ... smack!

Wings flapping wildly ... look at it ... eyes still open ... struggling ... around ... smack!! ... still fluttering ... around ... smack!!!

Get it on the table ... still flopping a little ... grab cleaver ... what do I do now? ... get knife under the feathers ... cut? no ... pull cleaver back and bring it down hard ... hit with the heel of the blade, draw blood, but little else ... is it going to spurt? ... put the cleaver on its neck ... push hard ... nothing happens ... pull the cleaver back again ... aim is good, hit the neck with the front of the blade ... goes through most of the neck ... it’s bleeding, but slowly ... there are three or four splatters on the table ... bring the knife back for another blow ... there’s blood on the knife ... Oh My God!, There’s Blood On The Knife ... bring it down again ... no effect ... the head is off except for the skin of the other side ... set the knife in the gap ... there’s a gap between its neck and its head! ... slice and they’re completely separated ... push the head away from the body with the knife ... set the knife down next to the head ... I’m done ... step away from the table.

I remember stepping away and everyone coming down to the table.  At some point I picked it back up and there was discussion about how to drain the blood.  In the end I just put it feet up in a bucket.

Then I realized that I was breathing heavy and fast.  My heart was beating fast.  I as giddy, maybe hyper-ventilating.  I don’t really know what I was feeling.  It wasn’t triumph or exultation.  I didn’t feel particularly accomplished.  It hadn’t been difficult, either physically or emotionally.  I hadn’t felt bad for the chicken or like I was doing something cruel.  But I definitely felt _something_.  And pretty strongly.

Kelsey was up next.  She had a little trouble getting the chicken up and around, but she did it.  It took a couple of tries to stun the bird, but she eventually got it.  The video shows me helping her cut off its head, but I do not remember that at all.

Layla took the third one and it (or maybe it was Kelsey’s, I don’t remember now) was really active even without its head, managing even to flop its way off of the table.

The rooster was last, and Doug decided that he would take on that beast.  He had a little trouble getting out of the dog carrier and the only way he could get it was to grab it by the neck.  I guess that gave him an idea because then on the walk over the to table he suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, just wrenched the rooster’s neck around, first one way then the other.  It was over very quickly and with a minimal amount of kicking and flopping around.  It bled a bit more than the others, but still there was very little blood, even once we started cutting them open.

Once all four had been killed there was a definite party atmosphere.  The spectators came down and got a close look at the birds.  They took pictures and got close up looks at the bloody tools and table.  We talked.  We laughed and joked.  We reminisced.  It was a lot of fun.  There was a certain amount of closeness and togetherness among us that I have rarely felt.  Maybe this is why people go out on team-building events.  But the emotions going through me (whatever emotions they were) really made me feel something special with everyone there.  It was especially true with the Portland folks, Doug, Jon and Gwynn, who I didn’t know nearly as well, but by the end of the day I knew we would all be lifelong friends.

Still flush with our victory over chicken-kind it was time to butcher them up and turn them into meat.  The first step was the de-feathering.  We dunked them into hot water to loosen them up and then began that messy job.  The smaller feathers came out very easily, but the larger ones on the tail and the wings were stuck on there good.  Many of mine broke before coming out and had to be pulled out with tweezers later.  The process was easier, work-wise, than I had expected, but more tedious and time consuming than I had thought.

The real time consuming part was the butchering.  Doug, Gwynn and I (and maybe someone else, my memory is a bit hazy already) did this part.  Kelsey was there helping, because she had at least seen it done before, while Chris stood on the porch with her laptop giving us unstructions (that was a typo, but after seeing it and remembering how not helpful they were, I decided to keep it) off of the internet. 

The first step was to get the neck and crop out.  The crop, I guess, is some sort of second stomach in the chicken’s neck or high up in its chest.  The goal was to get it out without piercing it so all of that half-digested glump didn’t get all over the bird.  These birds had recently fed, so the crop was full of grass and grain.  There was a lot of slow going and being extra careful with the knife, trying our best not to puncture it.  I wound up cutting into mine, but it was near the top and containable. 

The next step was cleaning out the intestinal cavity and that wound up being a lot of work.  It started with cutting ope a large hole in the bird’s abdomen, all the while being very careful not to cut too deep and puncture the intestines.  So once again, not really knowing what we could and could not cut deeply into, we cut very slowly.  Our knives too, were not the sharpest.  These chickens had a ton of fat on them, especially in their bellies that we were cutting through.

Once the hole was made, we had to insert our hands into the cavity and separate the internal organs from the walls of the cavity.  The worst thing about it?  They were still warm inside.  It was a very disconcerting reminder that this bird had been alive two hours ago.  Once the guts were out, a few quick knife cuts removed the whole kit and caboodle from the chicken.  And there you could see everything, much clearer and more obvious than in 10th Grade Biology class frog.  Liver, heart, intestines, kidneys.

Meanwhile, it was starting to get cold.  The sun had gone down behind the house and the wind had picked up.  Most folks had gone inside, both in search of warmth and there were things to do in there.  Christine cleaned and did some of the detail de-feathering that we hadn’t.  Kelsey and Layla finished up the bread and got it into the oven.  Kelsey get her Rosemary Chicken all prepped and ready to go.  I’m sure other stuff happened in there too, but Doug and I were outside and didn’t see most of it. 

I got a second chicken that had been cut open, but nothing removed, and knowing what I could and couldn’t do a lot better, made quick work of getting those guts out.  Doug, meanwhile, had gone to work on the rooster.  Now he turned out to be quite a bit different on the inside than the hens had been.  His breastbone was a lot longer meaning that the opening to his internal cavity was smaller, which we were initially worried about, but wound up only being difficult because Doug has big hands.  Why?  Because he had practically no fat on him.  The hens had been covered in fat, both under their skin and surrounding their intestines.  Bright yellow, shiny masses of it.  But the rooster must have been a lot more active because he had none of that and once Doug was able to get his hand in there to loosen everything up, his guts came right out.

And there we had it.  Four chickens looking much like they would have in the store.  Not exactly, as I realized as I began chopping them up into pieces to go in the various dishes.  The breasts were very small.  The skin was tougher and more yellow in color.  The dark meat was much darker in color.  And they were a lot fattier, at least the three hens.

One went in the soup pot.  One went into a baking pan whole, flavored with rosemary.  One went separated into a baking pan covered in white wine and apricot preserves.  And the rooster went into a ziplock bag and into the freezer.  After all, we’d only expected three chickens for dinner.

There was some time for hanging out and talking while the chickens cooked.  The mulled mead, my regular mean, watered down and with cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole allspice berries and nutmeg mixed in and heated, was a big hit, so we made another batch of that.  There was some playing of Rock Band.

I was just glad to have my hands washed and be warm.  By the end there, it had gotten bitchly cold outside and I had disembowelled two chickens and chopped into bits three more.  I’ll be happy not to have to do that again for a couple of weeks.  I was a little disappointed that we hadn’t been able to get to the planting of the grains, but that was pretty minor.  We’d been busy!

The chickens cooked for an hour and we had two more people arrive -- Ali and Erik, friends of mine.  The chickens were all done at that point, but I realized that I’d forgotten to make noodles to go along with the one dish, so we whipped those up quickly.  We also hadn’t made any plans for what we were going to eat off of, but at last I found some old paper plates, two more than we needed. 

We all stuck in and ate.  The chicken was ... disappointing.  It was very tough.  This had been a concern of mine.  Several websites had said that the chicken needed to be aged for 48 hours after killing to let the rigor mortis and other death processes run their course.  Other websites and forum posts had said that it wouldn’t be a problem.  Well, it was, or at least something was.  Even the chicken in the soup was tough, so we decided to forgo the soup and just keep cooking it, and see if it would soften up. It eventually did, but not until the next morning. 

Also, the chicken did really taste different to me.  Some people said it was “gamey” but I didn’t taste it.  It’s one of those things: people go on and on about how much better fresh food is and how it’s worth the extra price, but you know, to me, it just tastes the same.

But the bread was a big hit and there was enough food for everyone to get their fill.  We sat around a talked for another hour or two, split up into two groups.  Eventually the Seattle people had to leave, so we said our goodbyes.  But the Portland crew was staying the night on our couches and they were up for some TV, so we watched quite a few episodes of Black Books and had Cake Martinis.  And that was the Fertility Festival.

I did actually forget a couple of things.  At some point before dinner, Doug and I were cleaning up.  It was after dark and there was still a big tub of water in the yard with the guts of one of the chickens (my second one) which had accidentally fallen in the tub while I was cutting it free from the chicken.  We looked at each other, wondering what to do with it, and then Doug suggested we bury it in the field.  Christine, earlier, had emptied one of our bowls of knife cleaning water into the field, with a brief invocation to Demeter.  Both of these remembrances of the field meant a lot to me.

My daughter, Becca, had left the party after the killings were over, because she had a big school event going on, but before she left she said that she wanted one of the heads so that we could render down the flesh and get a chicken skull out of it.  Now, we all knew that by ‘we’ she actually meant someone who was not her, more than likely me.  But we took the rooster head, since it hadn’t been smashed against anything and put it in a pot on the barbeque’s stove.  We wound up throwing the other three heads in as well, because ... why not?  They simmered there all through dinner with no change in fleshiness and wound up stinking pretty bad (maybe because they still had some feathers on them?)  We quizzed Becca the next day about whether she would help out to get her skull, and she vehemently declined.  So, I decided to take them and bury one in each corner of the field, my little sacrifice to the grain spirits.

So what did I learn?  I don’t really know.  I picked up some skills.  I could probably butcher a chicken in half the time it took that first time.  Medievally, I guess I learned that there isn’t really that much meat on a regular, somewhat natural bird, but there can be a lot of fat, which in the medieval/iron age mind is a big thing.  I gained some new respect for butchering a bird like that.  I mean, our knives weren’t very good modern ones, how hard would it be with an iron one?  But I can certainly see that a couple eggs a week would be a lot more valuable than the meat off of the chicken.

What did I learn about myself?  Share more.  Invite people into my world.  Everyone had a great time.  Not because I kept to myself and expressed the interests of the herd.  But because I shared what I was truly interested in and it turned out that other people were too.  Several of us commented afterwards that we’d remember that day for the rest of our lives.  Does that happen by being boring?  By doing what everyone else does?  By keeping those ideas hidden away inside?  Nope, only by sharing them and making them happen.

The other thing that I ‘learned’ or may yet learn from is that emotion I felt after the killing.  I’ve been thinking about it all day as I write this and I still don’t have a good explanation or description for it.  I guess it feels like exhilaration, except that I had no expectation of feeling that way, no ramp up ‘this is going to be so exciting’ feeling before hand.  And so it doesn’t quite feel right to call it a thrill.  (It’s also mildly disturbing to call it exhilarating when it was murdering a living thing.)  I would expect that such a feeling would dissipate as I did it more and it would become mundane, which was how I was expecting it to feel. 

And everyone had a great time.  It was a memorable experience that brought us all together.  I think the lot of us that killed and gutted those chickens in some way bonded over that experience, and that feeling, that effect doesn’t need anything else.  Even if we hadn’t learned anything, or felt anything, that bonding was enough to make it a wonderful day.  Thank you, everyone, for being there and sharing it with the rest of us.
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

Autumn Planting Festival, or What I Learned From Killing a Chicken (part 2) Oct. 17th, 2011 @ 12:30 pm
We got to sleep late that night and there was a little bit of panic when I woke up and realized that I had slept in by a few hours.  I got out my laptop with the intention of writing myself a script of what I would say later on and then wound up taking to Chris and then Doug and Jon and Gwynn as they woke up.  Before I knew it, it was 9:40 am and time to get the chickens.

I had borrowed a small dog carrier from Kelsey a few days before, so I loaded that up in the car and drove down to get the chickens.  Google maps had suggested one route, but it had seemed to go in circles, so after a bit of futzing with waypoints I got it to give me a route that looked much more direct.  Except that it wound up taking me through the parking lot of a huge apartment complex which would have actually worked, except that the back entrance/exit to the parking lot was blocked off with a locked gate.  Fifteen minutes later, I finally found the place.

I was met by a very nice Transylvanian lady (I kid you not) who took me over to a small coop containing four chickens.  We talked for a bit, her pronunciation of words was excellent, but her grammar was not so good, and wound up coming out sounding like someone doing a bad Romanian accent.  Her best line was, “Planning trip back to old country soon.  Be gone six months, maybe more.  Men, they cannot be trusted to keep care of chickens. Must sell them before.”

She also said that her husband had said to give me a good deal, so she was throwing in a rooster along with the three hens.  Four birds for $60.  Seems like a lot to me, but Gwynn thought that the hens at least were some pretty prime poultry.  She tried to talk me into buying some ducks too, which were quacking up up a storm, but I begged off of those.  They were pretty mellow birds and were easy to corral into the dog carrier.  It was probably just as well that I hadn’t noticed the huge, mean-looking bone spur on the rooster’s legs until near the end.

I got them home with no problems; they barely made a cluck on the drive.

Once home, there was a bunch of work to be done.  I got the bread started rising.  I got all of our buckets and filled a big tub with water.  Pulled around a big wooden table into the back yard.  Got the gas burner on our barbecue working so we could have hot water to help with the feather plucking.  Chris made the cheese and meat plate.  We put the others to work as wee needed them, but Becca was getting them in the historical mood by showing them the video game Brütal Legend.

When we first came up with this idea, Kelsey and I had decided that we were going to do it in costume.  So, a little after 1:00 pm (as the others were going to be arriving about 2:00 pm), I locked myself in the bedroom and got into my Anglo-Saxon garb.  Which, I have to say, looks pretty damn good.  I still need a few things.  I could use an undertunic and shoes and maybe a cap.  I love the woolen leg wraps, though between those and the long tunic, you can barely see the trousers.  I got it together just as Layla and Kelsey arrived (both of their boyfriends were forced to go into work, so neither of them made it).  We hung around and chatted for a bit, and nommed our way through the cheese and meat platter.  By about 2:30 pm, we were ready to get down to business.

Gwynn was the only other person who donned a costume, although Doug made himself a blood-splatter tunic by cutting holes in a black plastic garbage bag.  So I was feeling a little exposed and embarrassed, but it wasn’t to bad.

We went out into the backyard.  The weather had turned out to be great -- sunny, but cool with a bit of a breeze -- which is a lot better than the dark grey with scattered showers they had been forecasting earlier in the week.  I gathered everyone around and told them I had a few words to say.  Becca and Jon videoed.

This was the moment that I had been working up to all week, even more than the actual chicken killing itself.  There was a brief moment of panic just before I started and then again about half a minute in where I forgot how to speak for a couple of seconds.  But I got my focus back.  I got into character and said what I had wanted to say.

The gist of the speech was to ask everyone to imagine that we were in the 6th Century.  Once there, I got into character as the Germanic head of household of a small farm.  I went on to explain that my son had traded our last cow for some magic grain that was supposed to grow through the winter (I haven’t been able to get a good handle on when these strains actually came into use in Europe.  Are they modern?  Not sure.) and that he didn’t know what kind of ceremony to use to bless his field with the strange wheat.  He gave a brief overview of the ceremonies that his people would have used for summer grains, and then asked for help in extrapolating out to the winter grains.

I thought it went well, that I said what I had wanted to say and that it had come out in an entertaining and interesting manner.  I delivered it well enough and didn’t make a complete fool out of myself.  So that was all good.  I invited everyone into my head for 13 minutes.

Then our attention turned to the chickens.  Now, one of our Portland friends, one who hadn’t been able to come, had sent us a link to a how-to website that had given very good and explicit instructions on one method of killing the chicken and instructions on gutting it as well.  I had found a YouTube video that did much the same thing, though with a different killing method.  Another website had offered an outrageous sounding procedure. And the good Transylvanian woman had suggested a different method.  So we had five basic methods to choose from:

    1.  Hit it on the head to knock it out.  Then either take it’s head off or bleed it out.  (Website #1)
    2.  Find it’s jugular vein just under its chin and slice it.  (YouTube video)
    3.  With the chicken on your lap, grab it by the head and yank hard, dislocating its neck. (Outrageous website)
    4.  Pinch the carotid artery in its neck until it fell unconscious, and then chop. (Transylvanian lady)
    5.  While still alive, chop its head off. (Commonly known, that’s what everyone knows about chicken killing method)

We had all looked at the website of #1, so we decided to go with that method. 

I guess that I’m being a little inexact with that method description though.  Hit it on the head needs a little more detail.  You can’t just hit it with a hammer.  They move too much and there would be a real chance of hitting yourself or the other person holding the chicken.  So, this method had you grasp the chicken by the feet, twirl it around at full force and then bring the chicken’s head down on something solid, like the edge of our table.

And so, I was the first one up
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Other entries
» Autumn Planting Festival, or What I Learned From Killing a Chicken (part 1)
This is the first time I’ve done this, and I not going to make a habit out of it, but in this case, I think it’s appropriate.  I’m crossposting this post to both my personal blog and my historical recreation blog.  Just so you know....

Remember a few posts ago when I talked about reading the Golden Bough ( http://tafeanorn.dreamwidth.org/111854.html ) and mentioned that it was listed in the Call of Cthulhu RPG book as causing a loss of sanity?  That’s silly, right?  Books don’t drive you crazy.  They don’t make you do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do.  Right?

Oh, but that is the power of books, isn’t it?  To teach.  To inspire.  And that is exactly what it did.  Inspire me.  ::insert maniacal laughter::

But, back to beginning of the story.  I finished pulling all of the weeds -- my nemeses, the ivy, the dandelions, and especially the European Buttercups -- and was thinking I was done preparing the field.  But then I realized two things, that the ground was a little hard and that the weeds were coming back very fast.  So, instead of just going after the weeds as they pooped up, I decided to take the shovel to the whole field again.

Not double digging this time.  That took too long and was too much work to do every year.  And plus, it may have made my weed problem worse.  No, this time my bright idea was to single dig -- just scoop up dirt, turn it over and rake it back in the hole.  But as I raked, I made a strong effort to pull out any roots or creeper vines that were in there.  The raking actually wound up being the hard and time-consuming part of the operation.  I pulled out tons of roots and vines, at least 6 wheelbarrow loads of them.  It took just about a month, working in 1-2 hour sessions, 2-4 sessions per week.  Estimate it at about 18 hours for my 750 sq. feet.

I also soil-tested the ground, and it came back as being very low on nitrogen.  So I added some fertilizer.  Anyone who’s interested about the fertilizer, I’ll make that a sperate post.

And I picked a crop.  I decided on winter red wheat and winter spelt.  They both recommended being planted by October 15th.  The 15th happened to be a Saturday, so I aimed for that day as my planting day.  So far so good.

But then a friend of mine, Kelsey, started talking to me about The Golden Bough, especially about the animal sacrifices.  We had talked before about wanting to go through the process of killing an animal, butchering it and eating it, and so, one thing led to another and we decided that the two of us (and probably my wife, but she hadn’t actually been asked at this point) would get together on Oct. 15th and have a little planting festival.  We’d kill a chicken, plant some wheat and spelt, cook, and probably drink a lot of mead.

And we’d probably dribble the chicken blood in the field and say a few words to the grain spirits about giving us a good harvest.

Now, I’m not religious, not religious at all.  I don’t really believe that there are grain spirits or that Jupiter or Ceres or Horus are looking after my field or the fertility of my field.  But, perhaps just because of that, I am very curious about religion, about feeling some connection with the absolute or the hugeness of the universe.  My roleplaying game is largely about playing immoral characters in a moral world and the paradoxes and punishments that go along with that.  I’m also very interested and respectful of traditions and rituals.  So I wanted to try and get a little of that from this planting party. 

And then Kelsey and I told another friend, Layla, about our little get together and she wanted to come.  And then Kelsey’s boyfriend wanted to come.  And then Layla’s boyfriend and another mutual friend.  And my wife thought it would be a hoot.  She mentioned it to some of her friends in Portland (200 miles away) and they thought it sounded like fun, so three of them made plans to drive up.  Before I knew what hit me, my little 2-3 person get-together and mushroomed into a nine or ten person party.

And it totally stressed me out.  The entire week leading up to it I was a basket case, just going over the plan, marshaling all of the little details of food, snacks, prep work and that kind of thing.  But also, what was I going to say.  What kind of a little ritual was I going to put on over my field.  That was where the major anxiety was.

Thursday morning, I realized what I was really stressing over.  It wasn’t so much the performance anxiety of getting in front of all of those people and talking.  It wasn’t that I was worried about my talk being inaccurate.  Messing up the logistics wasn’t really the thing that was bothering me.  Oh sure, all of those things were on my mind, but they weren’t what was causing the lion’s share of the stress. 

It was the the idea of opening myself up to these people.  Of coming right out and saying, “This is the crazy stuff that interests me and this is what I think about it.  This is where I am when my eyes glaze over and I’m spacing out.  This is the special place I go when the real world is being too difficult to take and I need a few minute vacation.  I go to a 6th Century, Northern European farm.”

And once I realized that thoughts such as these were the ones getting me all anxious, it was a lot easier to deal with and the stress greatly decreased.  And that was good.

Kelsey and I came up with the basic menu for the day.  We’d get three chickens and turn one into soup, bake one fairly simply with rosemary and oil packed in under its skin and the third would have a wine and apricot glaze and be served over pasta.  Yes, I know, not 6th Century, but the purpose of the day wasn’t to be perfectly realistic.  It was to have fun first, and then to get a glimpse into what life might of been like a millennia ago in Europe, or even just get an idea what life would be like in rural parts of the world today.

Christine, my wife, added a summer sausage, cold-cuts and cheese platter to the menu while we were getting set up and that was a great addition.  I made two different kinds of bread.  There was mulled mead and raspberry wine.  There was supposed to be a wheat berry salad, but that got canceled.  There was a green salad planned, but we forgot about it in the heat of the moment and it’s still in our fridge.  Gwynn and Jon from Portland brought sour apple cupcakes which were a big hit.  I think we went through something like three dozen of them.

None of us had any idea how or where to get live chickens, so I made a posting on Craigslist.  I only got one response, but it was from a nice enough sounding Eastern European immigrant family not too far away from our house here in the suburbs.  I made an appointment to meet them Saturday morning at 10:00 am.

I took most of Friday off of work.  There was still a lot of work to be done.  There was still a 3’ x 8’ section of the field that hadn’t been turned over.  I hadn’t fertilized yet, or made furrows (I decided that I would try to plant the wheat and spelt in rows this year, to make the continued weeding and harvesting a little easier).  I needed to grind grain into flour for the bread.  There was last minute cleaning to be done.  My daughter, Becca, had an appointment to take her driving test in order to get her driver’s license.  The Portland folks would be arriving.  I still had to figure out what I was going to say in front of the field and the chickens.  And my desktop computer, the one that I was doing all of the layout of Ellis on, had died the week before, and the replacement was due to arrive on that Friday.  So, it was a busy day.

We managed to get nearly everything done.  Furrows didn’t get made and only about half of the flour got ground.  Becca failed her driving test and was extremely disappointed about it, but handled it very well.  There was a lot of “Just let me do one more thing involved in setting up the new computer, and while it’s processing, I’ll do other work.”  But even with that nearly everything got done.

Doug, Jon and Gwynn arrive a little after 8:00 pm and we ran out to our favorite Mongolian grill for dinner before they closed.  There was much joking about the day-to-come’s festivities and everyone seemed to be looking forward to it. 

Which I guess still surprises me.  I suppose it shouldn’t.  Maybe that’s the lesson that I really need to take away from this whole experience is that I’m not as alone as I think I am and that if I was actually to share what I think and feel, other people would actually find it interesting.  ..............  Actually, that is the lesson I’m going to take away from this and do my best to keep it to heart, because it is a valuable and important lesson.

» Let Him Drink Cake!
My birthday was last Wednesday and had a great time.  I turned 42 and had a really nice time.

I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I have pretty much everything I want, so presents are a hard thing to come up with, but somehow, they just aren’t the big deal that they used to be.  My parents bought me a few books off of my Amazon list.  One of them, _Lifehacker_, is a collection of ideas to change your life and make it better, and I’m already loving it.  There’s good stuff there and I’ve only flipped through it.

Among Chris and I, we’ve been trying to give experiences more than things.  They’re often more expensive, so they make kind of ‘wow’ presents, they don’t clutter up the house, and they’re usually experiences for more than one person, so they’re double or triple presents.  So for my birthday we went to see a play, _An Ideal Husband_ by Oscar Wilde at the Taproot Theater, around the corner from my work.

Wednesday, the day of my actual birthday, was kind of a crappy day.  I blew out a brand-new tire on the way to work by scraping it along the curb while parking, and then the internet was down for most of the day at work, which meant no credit card processing.  I got to hang out with Erik, who is doing the map for Ellis after work, and that seems to be coming along.  Dare I hope for the end of the month?  But I waited too long and got caught in traffic going home.

But I got the tire replaced and made it home.  Talked to my parents and open their presents -- thanks again guys! -- and then opened a present from Chris that was in addition to the theater tickets.  Two bottled of Pinnacle vodka, one cake flavored and the other whipped cream flavored.  Wow!  What an awesome present!  Inexpensive, perfectly-tailored to my likes and habits, long-lasting.  Every time I have a drink for the next couple of months, I’ll think of her (and maybe longer, since I did not know those flavors existed).  I didn’t get to drink any that night; we spent the rest of the evening relaxing in front of the computer.

Thursday was a long day a work, with birthday dinner out with a bunch of friends afterward.  12 people showed up and we had a great time.  Thanks everyone for a great night out.  We went to a pizza/Italian place next door to work and I think half of us ordered the ‘Boat of Cheese’.  It was a little bland for my tastes, but very filling, which was what I wanted.  We talked some games at dinner, and more on the way out, but later, as I was walking to the car, I noticed a friend sitting by himself in a different restaurant, and went in to say hi.  We wound up talking games for nearly an hour.  Much fun!

Luckily, I took Friday off, since I didn’t get to bed until almost 1:00 am.  So I slept late, played in the garden, worked on Ellis and generally hung out.  A pretty mellow day.  Becca came home very upset because a party that she was going to on Saturday got moved to Friday.  We talked about it for a while and we worked out a plan to get her there that night, even though it would mean skipping the play.

So we went out to Mexican food that night, looked at MLPs at Toys R Us and then took Becca to her party, before Chris and I continued on into the city for our play.  Conversations beforehand (and afterwards) got a little serious, but not in a bad way, and managed to make the night even better.  The play itself was fabulous.  The first two acts a little slow, but plenty witty, and the third and fourth acts riotously funny and deeply moving.  I actually teared up twice.

Saturday was also fairly mellow, me feeling like I was fighting off a low-level crud.  But I got chores done, worked on Ellis some, and got to play City of Heroes for a bit.  Dinner was homemade chicken soup which made the house smell wonderful.  Cheesy movie night was Zoom: Academy for Super Heroes, which was terrible.

We made two different drinks for the night, both featuring the new vodka.  I started with a recipe off of Pinnacle’s website, but didn’t like the taste, so I added some syrup which made all of the difference.  Chris talked me into adding cupcake candy sprinkles as a garnish, which was also a very good touch.  Here’s the final recipe for my new favorite drink:

1.5 oz Cake-flavored vodka
1.0 oz Whipped cream flavored vodka
1.5 oz Half & Half
1.0 oz Simple syrup
Garnish with candy sprinkles

Chris’ drink was:

4.5 oz ChocoVine
1.0 oz Whipped cream flavored vodka
1.5 oz Half & Half


Today starts a long stretch of extra hours at work, and hopefully catching up on a lot of little things at work.  I’m looking forward to getting everything ship-shape for the upcoming holidays, but not to being there as much as I will be.  But oh well, it won’t be any worse than the multiple shifts I was working this time last year,  :)
» The Golden Bough
I’ve been listening to the audio book (from LibriVox) version of the 1922 edition of this classic book and finally finished it earlier this week.  Fabulous.

I first heard about this book back in high school, when I was playing the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.  It was the only ‘real’ book on the list of Cthulhu Mythos books that would actually teach your character something about the evils secret alurk in the world.  It was also the one that taught you the least.

But ever since then, this book has held a special place in my imagination.  Once, on a trip to California (the first trip to meet my then-fiancée’s family) I found an early copy of the 12(?) volume edition in a used book store for several hundred dollars.  I wanted it.  I might have even bought it if our car hadn’t died to the tune of $900 a few days earlier.  I’ve looked ever since for another set like that and have never seen one.

So when I found that there was an audio copy available on LibriVox, even though it was the 1922 abridged edition, I couldn’t help myself but to download and listen to it.  Even though it was 42 hours long.  But really, when was I going to get 30+ hours to read it?

It is a great book, one that I wish I’d read years ago.  What is is about?  A little hard to say, because most of the book is actually tangents, sections that support his argument, but only in a “You think I’m crazy for saying that people would would actually do this?  Well, these people, halfway around the world, _do_ think that, so my idea is that far-fetched.”  Not proof, but proof-in-concept.

So what’s it about?  The basic thesis is to look at the Roman religious rites recorded as happening at Nemi, outside of Rome and mentioned in Virgil’s Æneid, then to try and piece together what those rites meant to the Romans and where those beliefs had come from, trying to trace them to their Indo-European roots.

And, in the process, examine aboriginal religious rites from across the world -- North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Melonesia, Africa, Asia, everywhere.

It’s way too much for me to try and summarize here, but there were lots of fun stories, interesting customs and beliefs, and insightful examination of some well-known as well as some obscure myths.  It’s a great resource for world builders, fantasy/historical authors and roleplayers.

I’ve been listening to it in the car and while working in the garden, preparing my wheat field for planting.  And that has been the best part, tearing up weeds, digging, and readying my plot for planting while listening to accounts of old harvest festivals, hearing about planting sacrifices and guarding spirits or divinities that watch over the earth’s bounty.

Since then, I’ve listened to some shorter books: Einhart’s _Life of Charlemagne_ and Tacitus’ _Germania_.  I also tried to listen to the _Lays of Marie de France_ but the reader’s were so bad, I couldn’t go through with it.
» Friday -- Stavanger and the Ullandhaug Iron Age Farm -- Part 1
Becca stayed out late Thursday night, and was in no mood to wake up Friday morning.  Chris and I had breakfast together and we could see out the window that there was some sort of street fair getting set up.  We decided not to push Becca into joining us for the day, and I think that was a good call.  Today was going to be an adventure.

So we woke her up long enough to throw some croissants at her and ask her if she wanted to go.  She declined, but nommed the pastries.  We set off to explore the town taking Bjarni with us.

Have I mentioned Bjarni?  I don’t think so.  Becca bought him in one of our first ports, Oslo or Kristiansand as a gift for one of her friends.  But somehow, she or Chris decided it would be neat if Bjarni was well traveled and if a log could be kept of all the places Bjarni went.  So ever since, everywhere we go, Bjarni comes to and either gets posed for pictures in famous places or photobombs pictures of scenery.  That sort of thing.  So we took him with so that he could get photoed in Stavanger.

Stavanger was a larger town and was pretty nice.  We walked along the waterfront, through the Taste of Stavanger that was setting up.  Our journey took us to the local cathedral, where Bjarni got his picture taken and to a duck pond, where Bjarni posed with ducks.  There was an information center across from the church, and we got directions to the Farm: bus stop 44, take the #4 bus.

The thing I didn’t ask was when to get off of the bus.  We talked to the bus driver, and he seemed to know where we were going, but his English wasn’t great.  He said he’d let us know when it was our stop. 

The map we had was good for 2.5 km from the town center.  I followed our route until we left the map and then we were entirely in his hands.  An adventure, right?  We went through a single lane tunnel (it did have a traffic light) and off into the rural hills above the town.

He called us up to the front of bus and said we were almost there, but then seemed unsure where to drop us off.  Finally he decided, and seemed to drop us off, not at a real stop, but just by the side of the road.  He did indicate where the return bus stop was, which was a help.

Or maybe it wasn’t.  Because both Chris and I got the idea that the Farm was across the street and down a side road.  So we went that way.  There were farms, an experimental farm run by the university growing spelt and other grains, and a dairy farm.  The road we followed let to a trail head, and then to a rural road with access to the farms and other houses.  We went down that way for a while, getting nice views, when luckily we ran into a woman and her son, who we asked directions from.

She pointed us back to the crossroads where the bus had dropped us off.  So we went back.  There were two directions left to try, and so we tried the downhill way, toward the university.  The road seemed to go along a field with a standing stone on it, but it was fenced off with no signs.  We came to a bus stop with three or four college students there.  I asked again.  Two of them had no idea and the third though it was back the way we came and around the corner.

So, back to where the bus dropped us off and down the road in the forth and final direction.  By this point we were both pretty tired, the sky was spitting on us and there was no Iron Age Farm in sight.  A long block in that direction and we decided to give up.

I was devastated.  I had wanted to go here so bad.  I had been reading about it for months, posting to Facebook about it.  I changed my home computer’s wallpaper to a picture of the Farm.  But what else could we do?  We were lost.  None of the locals seemed to know where it was.  Giving up seeped the thing to do.

And then I had an idea.  The main listing in the guidebook did not have an address listed for the Farm, but I knew I had seen one somewhere.  So I looked through all of my paperwork and finally found it in an advertisement alongside the map that they’d given us at the tourist office.  It listed the address as Ullandhaug 75, and there, right across the street where we had been standing a minute ago, were Ullandhaug 69 & 67.  So we had to be close.

Chris said she’d give it one more try, but that I owed her.  That was fine.  We walked back across the street and downhill a ways and then came to a gate leading into a field.  You couldn’t really see the field because of the lay of the land, but we figured that this must be the place.  But still, there was no sign, no iron age, turf covered houses, no guides.  We let ourselves through the gate, kept going, with a bit of trepidation, wondering if we were just in someone’s yard.
» The present
It’s been a long week since I got back from the trip to Europe, which is why I haven’t quite caught up with posting pictures and the final bits of my blog.

First there was a lot of work.  A half day (thanks to Kayce) the day we got back.  A full day the next.  And two eleven-hour days (plus an early day when I dropped the girls off at the airport).

I was still feeling exceedingly tired and jet-laggy, which is no surprise, so I decided to take it easy over the weekend.  I did some work in the garden, or should I say my grain field.  It was harder work than I anticipated -- because I have ignored it all spring it was (and still mostly is) a tangled mess of ivy vines and European Buttercup creepers.  Tearing those out left me tired and sore.

So after a good, long nap and some cleaning up around the house, I settled down to read Dance of the Dean by Lincoln and Child.  I stayed up too late reading it, and had to get up early the next morning.

I had a bunch of stuff to do in the morning and from the very start of the day I could tell it was going to be a bad allergy day, with eyes and nose both running uncontrollably.  Grocery shopping (including allergy meds, because we were out), making food, cleaning and tidying.  I got that all done so I could meet Ali for breakfast on my way down to the airport to pickup the girls.  We had a nice talk and I got to hear all about ComicCon.

I picked up Chris and Becca at the airport and it was very good to see them.  I got to hear all about their trip and Becca couldn’t stop talking about how great it was.

I got a nap when we got home and woke up from that badly and basically spent the rest of the day reading, staying up late so that I could finish the book.  It’s been a long time since I’ve gone on a reading binge like that.  But I’m really enjoying getting back into reading and I’m going to keep it up.  So I started the sequel...

Monday morning came too early, but at least my allergy symptoms had left.  I was greeting by a text message saying that a good friend was at the ER, which was not a happy thing and worried me quite a bit until I finally heard that everything was okay.  I started getting caught up with all of my web-mastering work for Gary’s Games (which I just now finished) and then drove down to Seattle to meet Layla for lunch.

We met at a great Thai place, and it was such a nice day that I insisted we sit on the patio.  That was a mistake, as it turned out, because we were there for four hours and I sunburned something crazy.  My arms are bright red and painful to bend.  Despite that, we had a very nice time, people watching in Fremont, and talking about pretty much everything.

Afterwards, I came home and went driving with Becca for a about an hour, which was fun, although she wasn’t in a very talkative mood.

Coming home, I made my homemade chicken strips that everyone loves and then settled in to catch up on some of the shows we recorded while we were away.  We watched two episodes of Expedition Impossible, both of which got me surprisingly emotional as two teams actually helped out and made sacrifices for other teams for no other reason than kindness and friendship.  You don’t see that often in a Mark Burnett show.

Becca tried to get me to go to bed at 11:00, but I had gone back to my book and was stubbornly not giving into sleep because I was enjoying it so much.  I stayed up way too late and got up way too early, but now I should have most of my chores done by Noon and can get a good nap in.  Before the end of the day you should see one or two more blog posts about the Europe trip and some of our pictures starting to show up.

Now if I can only get some work done on Ellis.... 
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