Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Swim Class... without that Pesky Swimming

Katy still loves swim class. On Monday night, she excitedly was talking about getting to swim the next day. When I dropped her off at school, she we excited about it. When I picked her up from school, she was still excited about it; a teacher even mentioned that she had been talking about it all day.

So, imagine how happy we were to discover that it was "Safety Day" at swim class.

Don't get me wrong: learning about water safety and the proper way to wear flotation devices and to behave around a body of water is worthwhile. It's just that the age of the kids in that class doesn't lend itself well to being denied something they were desperately looking forward to.

The only time spent in the water was at the very end, when they jumped in with the life jackets on (Katy was able to put hers on by herself!) and swam on their backs. When they reached the edge of the pool, it was time to get out and class was over. Katy came to me and made it clear she wasn't ready to go. I asked if she wanted me to dip her in the pool and she agreed that that was good enough. After dipping her about ten times, she was good to go. I apologized for her not being able to really get to swim like she wanted and said that I would have warned her if I had known. I also mentioned that she should be able to do a lot of swimming next week like she had been planning to do; she seemed cool with that.

Friday, November 23, 2007

FAT Fest and the Turkey Experience

After a slower start than I wanted due to needing to run into work for a little bit, Katy and I made the Thanksgiving journey that so many Americans make this time of year. We only hit a little traffic on our trip on Wednesday afternoon and it took an extra hour to get from Kalamazoo to Grandma & Grandpa's house in Sterling Heights. She is amazingly patient and becoming such a big girl: at one point near the end of the trip, she told me she "had to go potty"; I asked her if she could hold it and she was able to make it all the way to her grandparents' without needing to stop.

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After a quick potty break, we went to Katy's favorite restaurant, Red Robin; she has a lot of food allergies, but we discovered that she can eat the fries and she discovered that she loves them. We played a little bit back at the house and then it was bedtime. David, Jenny and I ran off to David's house and played "Guitar Hero III" and watched "Flight of the Conchords" for the rest of the evening. A good time was had by all.

On Thanksgiving, Davey and I went back to the 'rents. We all had a good day playing with Katy, watching football (on DVR so we could skip commercials and the boring parts), eating and just generally enjoying one-another's company. After bedtime, once again, the three siblings went to Davey's place and played GHIII and several board games. The entire trip, I had been making good use of my new digital video camera, which I will write about in a later post. Some of the videos are pretty amusing.

On Black Friday, Jenny had to work (after the rush so it isn't too bad). David and his friends have been playing an annual game of football on the day after Thanksgiving for about eleven years now, and I decided to join them after my long hiatus. The game is called "FAT Fest", which I believe just stands for "Football After Thanksgiving". In the past, when we were young and stupid, it was full-contact tackle football; now that we are old and less stupid, it is flag. For the first time ever in FAT Fest history, another group of players also wanted to play on the field we were using. So, we ended up playing us vs. them. It was a little anxious, but it ended up being much closer than the feared blow out and we only lost by two scores (7 touchdowns to 5 touchdowns).

Now, the plan is to run out at 4 and catch the new movie, Hitman. It hasn't gotten very good reviews, but I like the game enough to watch it just to see a movie with my bro and dad. Afterwards, we'll likely have dinner (probably turkey, if I had to guess) and then hang out with David's friends who are in town and can stop by at his house to play.

Right now, the plan is to leave on Saturday after lunch, but Katy has been begging to stay until Sunday. I guess I'll just play it by ear. So far, it has been a non-stop fun time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Joys of Being Evil

One of the perks of my job is the interesting people I work with. Several of us do a lot of things together, including the obvious, such as lunches, and the not as obvious, like bike riding. One of our popular activities is Game Night.

Game Night, or Geek Party as my wife is fond of saying, started over a year ago, when my co-worker / friend, Rob, and I started playing D&D with our boss / friend, Tom. He ran a standard 3.5 campaign, with a couple of homebrew rules, in a custom world that his friend had created ages ago.

As time went on, our projects expanded and the number of contractors we had expanded as well. Another three of the guys from work joined Game Night, for a grand total of six of us. Eventually, the pressures of work increased, and the expectations of family life increased, and we found we had gone six months or so since we had gathered to game.

Since then, we have rectified the situation. And, we have expanded our original scope. We've tried superhero RPGs, a D20 future campaign, a Shadowrun campaign, a D20 Modern Arcana campaign and an Iron Heroes campaign. Some of these were more interesting than others, but all were fun.

On the nights that we cannot all gather, and with as many members of our gaming group as we have it is not uncommon that someone is missing, we normally play a board game of some sort. Recently, someone suggested that we play a quick drop-in campaign, one where it goes on when people are missing and it isn't big deal. We decided that this one would be our first evil campaign.

As mentioned, we've tried a wide range of games. However, they all share the common theme of the players as heroes, trying to save the world in some way, shape or form. The game we were to play would occur in the same fantasy setting as our first D&D 3.5 game, but with the key difference being that we were the bad guys.

We played level 6 human Half-Fiends (ECL 10). It played very different from normal. In the past, we've rushed headlong into any problem we encountered; this time, we were not content to simply beat the enemies, we had to do it in a thoughtful, no-good-nick manner.

The story was simple enough: the sons of a devil of some power on the evil plane had come of age and were to prove their worth, via the completion of a mission or two of their choosing, from the selection provided by dear old dad. We had three choices: rid the plane of the lesser devil that had been contending for power and becoming a nuisance to Dad, drive off the paladin spreading his do-gooder ways throughout the land, or destroy the bronze dragon.

Immediately, I wanted the paladin. Not to simply drive off or kill, but to corrupt and own as a plaything for evil. However, it occurred to us that the lesser devil might be an easier target. Then, I hatched a fiendish (or Half-Fiendish, in this case) plan. Instead of attacking one or the other, we'd use them against each other.

I forged a document, an official letter in the name of our father, requesting the service of the devil and promising a piece of the domain. All that was asked for in return was his assistance in the destruction of the paladin. He fell for the forgery, bought our bluff and eagerly accompanied us, even providing the teleportation needed to reach the paladin. During the battle that ensued, we all weakly, and half-heartedly, 'assisted' the devil in his attack on the paladin. When they had both done sufficient damage to one another, and the devil appeared ready to retreat, we ambushed him, feeble-minding him and backstabbing him to death. Then, we Held the paladin and nearly finished him, too; if only we had taken the time to remove the Helm of Teleportation. So, the paladin lived to see another day. I took solace in the fact that he had already begun to act as our instrument of destruction.

For a quick, drop-in campaign, we decided we were into it enough to decide we were going to play it the next time we met, too. We had a slow start, and not much happened, but this game is easily the one in which we have done the most planning and strategy. It looks like it might be our "sleeper-hit".

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Katy Swims with the Fishes

This Tuesday was the third week of Katy's swim classes at the Y. As mentioned earlier, now that she is agreeable about Floatie, she is completely comfortable in the water. It is awesome and amazing to me to watch her being so excited about being in the pool; at the start of class, while waiting for the other kids, she will push off the wall and swim and spin around in the water whenever the instructor's back was turned. It was amusing.

She is very excited about it and puts all her effort into swimming, even if her form isn't the best, yet; occasionally, when using her arms, she forgets that she has to point her legs behind her instead of in-front and will be stationary for a little bit.

For the past two weeks, she has been using only one of the two yellow arm-floaties and is very fast in the water. She is good at jumping into the pool, even though she thinks she needs the teacher to hold her hands out for her. She loves to watch the older kids and try to duplicate what they are doing. And, the swimming: she is a swimming champ.

I am, obviously, very proud at how well she is doing and what a good swimmer she is. What I find interesting, however, is that it seems that her affinity for the water is a part of her; she has always loved the water, even in baths, even if it gets in her eyes, even if she accidentally goes under for a little while. So, while I am proud, is there really any true reason to be so? Kendra and I didn't do anything special that would encourage her love of the water, at least nothing I can think of. So, it really seems like there is no good reason to be proud, but I am anyways.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Our Journey through the Candycane Forrest

Katy likes to do a lot of different things; she likes reading, and coloring, and cutting, and lots of art-type stuff. One of the things that she hasn't done a lot of is playing games. She has had Candyland for a while now, but every time we would "play" it, explaining the rules or showing her how it worked was beyond her attention span; she would be more interested in putting the little pawns on their corresponding colors than actually playing.

This Sunday, Katy and I played her first game of Candyland. Once I got her to understand the rules, she was very excited to draw the cards and move the guys. She picked the yellow pawn and I chose the blue. I am happy to report that she completely crushed me. Even so, she was a very good winner and even helped me draw cards and move my guy all the way to the end so that I could "win" too. I am looking forward to continued gaming with her; maybe next time we can try "Arkham Horror." ;)

She also expressed a desire to work on puzzles, something else which she doesn't frequently do. Kendra and I had a hard time getting her to understand the concept of how to find the edges and how to figure out what goes together. I had some better luck with encouraging her to look at the picture on the box and then deciding on some part to try to put together. Doing it that way, she easily put her Curious George puzzle together by herself. She is getting to be such a big girl.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Coding Horror and the Lessons It Teaches

Coding Horror is a website I recently discovered through Jason, one of my friends from work. Jeff Atwood, the blogger who runs Coding Horror, writes about a number of different computer related things, many of which are of direct interest to me. A word of warning: if you aren't a developer / computer person, your interest in the site will be limited.

One of the things he wrote about recently was his success with his blog and what the trick to having a successful blog is. The part that struck a chord with me was the frequency: he suggested that you pick a scheduled number of posts and stick with it.

After reading this, I realized that I had been neglecting my blog; while I do not write about a specific topic, and the audience I really write for is mostly just myself, I felt that I would benefit from the discipline of writing a predetermined number of times per week. Additionally, I do enjoy writing and story-telling and a schedule would encourage me to take the time to do something I enjoy.

Two weeks ago, I decided to revamp my blog and also picked a posting schedule: I am posting three times a week, preferably on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Thus far, I have not missed a day. I think part of my success comes from several things: the first is that, with a schedule, I now have a target posting deadline in mind, and I will start a day or two before I actually post; this gives me plenty of time to formulate an idea for a post and to fill it out in time to meet my schedule.

The second is that I only write about one thing per post now; previously, I would notice that I hadn't posted in a long while and try to cram everything I had to say into one post. This would leave me without anything to say for the next post, and there would be a large gap between posts, again.

The third is that I am less picky about the final result. I don't mean to say that quality isn't important, but not every post has to be a perfect dissertation on a topic of utmost urgency and importance. I am much more likely to post now that I don't feel like I need to be profound.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Happiness Known as the Coney Dog

I live in south-western Michigan, specifically in the Portage/Kalamazoo areas, but I am originally from the east side of the state, moving here from Ann Arbor and growing up in Sterling Heights. A common restaurant, one that is easy to take for granted, is Coney Island.

For those of you who are not from Michigan, when I talk about Coney Island, I am not talking about the amusement park in New York. Instead, I am talking about a restaurant that serves hot dogs with chili and cheese on them, as well as chili-cheese fries. Almost universally, these places are owned by people of Greek heritage and will also server Gyros (pronounced "year-ohs.") And, while there are chains of these places, like "National Coney Island", there are a number of them that are independently owned and named things like "Phoenix Coney Island," "Koney's," or "Kirby's Coney Island."

For whatever reason, the "Coney Island" concept just hasn't caught on in Kalamazoo like it has on the east side. So, I was thrilled when I saw a place called "Coney'Z" off of Romence. I was able to convince the guys that we needed to try it for lunch, promising gyros would be available.

"Coney'Z" is a very small restaurant, with a very limited amount of space. There were about ten closely packed tables/booths, and the store itself was sharing space with the cafe next door. The food selection was pretty limited, too. There were no gyros, but there were "sliders", described as being like the White Castle ones. And, of course, there were hot dogs.

I was happy with my Coney dog with cheese and chili cheese fries, and it seemed most of the group was happy with at least portions of their meals. It seems like a place we will visit again. I am happy for this little place, but it really isn't like the Coney Islands from back home.

I also tried some chili-cheese fries at Nisker's recently, but wasn't really impressed; their regular fries are decent enough, but the chili and cheese they add really doesn't do it for me. So, I'll keep looking for my stand-in Coney dog and chili-cheese fries place.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's that NaNoWriMo Time of Year Again

Something that I've taken part in, or at least tried to take part in, every year for the past three of four years now is the NaNoWriMo: the National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month, specifically November. What you end up with is not necessarily the greatest novel ever. It might be a bit short. It will likely need a lot of editing. It is, most likely, a rough draft. But, to get those 50k words written would be a huge accomplishment.

Last year, I think I've come the closest I have ever been. The problem I ran into, however, was that I couldn't find a direction for the story; it was about time travel, but I wasn't sure what I was trying to do or say about it and I hadn't placed any limits on it. If you've never tried it, writing a story about traveling through time / stopping time without any limits on its frequency, while the actual time traveling is trivially easy, is extraordinarily difficult. I also didn't have a good idea on how to handle the repercussions of changing the past and how it would affect the future. Would it split the universe? Would it simply change the present? I didn't know, and the story died right there.

This year, I think I've learned a bit about what not to do. I don't have a strong idea about where I want to go with this new story, but I've had a number of different ideas over the years and some of them just keep nagging me. Specifically, the concept of a special hammer won't let up. So, I have a start, and 536 words written. It isn't much, but hopefully it will be enough to give me something to think about and try to figure out where to go from here.

For those of you who are mathematically inclined, to stay on target requires approximately 1667 words per day. As this is the fourth day, to be on schedule requires 6667 words by the end of the day. So, only 6131 words left for today. Already, it isn't a very promising performance for this year, but I'm going to stick it out, anyways.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Halloween, Halloween, Trick or Treat

Katy was a princess for Halloween. She had told us quite awhile ago that that was what she wanted to be, so Kendra had purchased the princess outfit. Recently, when she couldn't make up her mind about what she wanted to be, I would help direct her back to the princess outfit: you want to be Dorothy the Dinosaur? How about Dorothy the Dinosaur dressed like a princess? You want to be Dora? How about Princess Dora? You want to be a kitty? How about a kitty princess? We had the costume, and gosh-darn-it, she was gonna wear it one way or another.

It was, of course, cold and rainy for trick or treating, but my little princess was excited anyway. I left a bowl of second-rate candy on the porch; I was saving the good stuff for distribution by Katy and me when we finished with her outing. We headed toward Claire 'n Abby's house, since there was a small group from the neighborhood going trick or treating together. I grabbed a picture of all the girls sitting together on the stairs in their various outfits, then we were off.

Initially, Katy wanted me to come up to the door with her, but she quickly got the hang of trick or treating and it was easy to encourage her to run up to the door herself or with the other girls. At this age, the concept of "together" is still pretty loose and the girls would sometimes be at a house begging for candy at the same time, while other times they'd be at different houses as someone would fall behind or someone would run ahead.

I tried to encourage Katy to hang back with Abby a little, since she is younger and was very clingy to Ron, her dad. Eventually, we had to split up, since Ron and Abby had to go catch up with Claire and Katy was ready to get back to our house. At her age, there still isn't the overwhelming need to hit every house at Halloween. As we were walking back home, we were passing by houses that we had not stopped at: when I would ask if she wanted to stop on the way, she said no, that she had enough candy.

At home, the second-rate candy was still about half-full, so I brought it in and mixed in "the good stuff." I sorted through Katy's candy to find stuff that she could eat, and then we sat on the stairs and waited for trick or treaters. As generous as I try to be with the candy, Katy makes me look like a scrooge: she would scoop candy with both hands and cheerfully distribute it to the masses.

About 7:15 or so, there was only a little candy left and it was pretty gloomy and rainy, so I turned off the light and Katy and I went to visit her preschool teacher, Miss Linnea; Linnea had sent home a note saying that she'd love to see the kids in costume and that any of the kids who were in the area were welcome to come and trick or treat. We arrived at the same time as her classmate, Gwen, did. After we went upstairs to her apartment, another classmate, Lizabeth, arrived. The kids had their pictures taken and got some candy and were excited to give the dog treats.

We got home after 8pm, at least fifteen minutes after Katy should have already been in bed sleeping. Halloween is a special occasion, though. She got ready for bed like she always does, we read a book and she happily went to sleep, likely thinking / dreaming about all the fun we had. It was a good Halloween for both of us.