Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.



Cheese and charcuterie platter
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Throughout our convention schedule, we kept our spirits up knowing that we had a reservation for three on Sunday night for "the cheese." As soon as I heard that it was possible to make a meal entirely from the cheese options available at Artisanal, I knew it must be mine. The restaurant offers other French classics (and Chris did eventually try their steak tartare) but for me it was all about the cheese.

We walked to the Park Avenue location just as the snow they'd been threatening all day was beginning to fall. We were a bit confused trying to find the place (especially since my Palm was on the fritz and so I couldn't pull up my map or walking directions) but I was under the impression that traditionally if the address is "2 Park Avenue" the entrance would be on Park Avenue, not halfway down the block on a cross-street. But I quibble... once we found our location, we checked our coats and were seated immediately. Our first waitress was young, friendly, even perky. She wasn't put off by our stated intention to "maximize our cheese experience" or when we asked to please just bring the courses as they were ready... I mean, if you're going to have an all cheese meal, how do you decide exactly when to have the cheese plate versus the fondue course?

The menu was glorious! We settled on a Stilton and Sauternes fondue instead of the special sharp-cheddar-based "100 cheese fondue" and the only thing I regret is that there wasn't more of it. We started with cubes of assorted breads for dipping but after the first bite I knew we definitely needed some apple to go with it. Our lovely waitress brought us some right away and it was perfect. Just writing up the experience makes my mouth water all over again.

Next we had the cheese and charcuterie platter. The platter was comprised of a Valenšay goat cheese from France, Constant Bliss cow's milk cheese from Vermont, Tomme de Savoie cow's milk cheese from France, ComtÚ traditionally unpasteurized cow's milk from France, Kuntener raw cow's milk cheese from Switzerland, and a Shropshire Blue from England, plus three or four different cured meats, gherkins, quince paste, a fig concoction, green grapes, and sliced apples and pears. We also had another assortment of breads, including a dark bread with nuts in it that was beyond words when combined with some of the meats and cheeses. It was at this point we asked for some mustard, which again was cheerfully supplied.

Unfortunately, it was also at this point that it started snowing harder and our cheery waitress left for the night. Instead we were attended for the rest of the evening by a very stern and formal woman who was absolutely ruthless in her stiff, European attention. When I got up to use the bathroom during the meal, my plate was removed and only replaced when I resorted to eating straight off the table. She was also intent on straightening my silverware while I was using them! I'll admit to being a bit put off at this point, though the food was still excellent.

Our final courses came somewhat more slowly. Chris has the steak tartare and both Steve and I had the French Onion soup. It was perfect French Onion Soup weather, after all. Steve enjoyed his very much but I found mine to be burned on top to the degree that any bit with some cheese in it was tasted charred and unpleasant. I think I left most of the cheese in the bottom of the bowl, which kind of defeats the purpose of French Onion soup, in my opinion. If it hadn't been the end of the night, the end of a nearly two hour long meal... if perhaps the lighting had been brighter and I'd realized the cheese wasn't just browned but was burnt sooner, I might have asked for it to be redone. I'm not the sort who sends things back lightly and I didn't want to drag out the experience any further but it was a disappointment. Again, with Cremant's perfect GratinÚe des Halles still vivid in my mind, it was hard not to be disappointed. It was the difference between this:
and this

After the third course, there was no way even the three of us could have shared a single dessert, no matter how good. The mile-high cheesecake would have to wait for another day. I did order an espresso, though. Absolutely necessary to cut through the richness of the meal and help steel us for the walk back to the hotel in the snow.

Overall Artisanal was a fantastic experience. It was not even the most expensive dinner of the trip. The slightly sour note of the change in servers and the oops of my too done soup were far, far outweighed by the gloriousness of the rest of the meal. I was happy to know we'd be sending Steve home having fed him properly at Artisanal.

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Ruby Foo's

Ruby Foo's menu
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
When we made the decision to go to Churrascaria Plataforma without the New York group, we tried making reservations at a number of other places. I called up what seemed to be several promising options until my Palm literally blew itself out in my hands. I've never seen anything like it (well, not since the lightbulbs stopped blowing themselves out of the ceiling and the Xbox 360 got fixed...) and I was ready to throw in the towel, declare New York City the winner and leave for home on the spot.

Thankfully our talented New Yorkers stepped in to fill the void and secured a reservation for eight at Ruby Foo's Dim Sum and Sushi Palace.

I came away fairly impressed with Ruby Foo's. The restaurant was large and didn't have any trouble accommodating us for a late dinner. Our waiter (who could have been Elijah Wood's brother) was pleasant and attentive and I had a second Kirin before my first was empty, a big plus where I'm concerned (remembering how I had to nurse my single glass of wine through a two hour dinner at Cremant). I'd hoped to get someone to share a big platter of sushi with me but I alone was interested in sushi that night and had to settle for trying only three of the dozen or more specialty rolls offered.

I was absolutely stuffed by the time I finished, but I'd again had nothing except a Clif bar, a latte, and an ice cream on the floor of the show so I was famished when we sat down. Chris and Brian had the Peking duck, Bill had the filet mignon chow fun, and I started with a large bowl of miso soup with enoki mushrooms (perfect for a cold night and delicious to boot!) and eventually settled on the Miso Glazed Chilean Sea Bass roll, the Dragon Roll, and the Snowball Roll (Tuna and Crab Rolled in Crisp Tempura).

Unfortunately, with the convention not closing until 9pm on Saturday and us needing to be back at the booth by 10am on Sunday, I wasn't feeling very peppy once full of dinner. Many of the guys had commutes back out to New Jersey or other locations outside the city proper and after walking back to the hotel area (which was not a short walk) I could barely stand and was forced to bid the fellows farewell.

Chris popped into a store to buy a drink to take back to the room and I slipped upstairs intending to get ready for bed. Steve, worn out from the previous couple of days, hadn't even had the energy to join us for dinner and was already in bed asleep when I got back. Of course, once again my anti-technology aura struck (not content to have wiped out my Palm) and I was unable to open the door with my key. It did nothing at all, so I just parked it in the hallway until Chris came up and let me in. I had knocked softly when I first couldn't open the door but Steve was already in bed, fully ear-plug-enabled and sleeping soundly and didn't hear me. Knowing Chris would soon be up, it wasn't worth waking Steve but I cursed my anti-technology aura for the additional inconvenience anyway.

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Churrascaria Plataforma

Action shot
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
We originally thought that this was going to be the place we'd meet up with the New York guys, our friends and frequent authors who live in the area, on Saturday night. Communications broke down, though, leaving us uncertain of whether any of them could make it and we literally tried to get reservations at a dozen other places for Friday night unsuccessfully, so we decided to just make the jump to Churrascaria Plataforma on Friday and make plans for Saturday elsewhere if we could reach the guys. (Of course, after enacting this plan, we learned that they all had intended to join us at Churrascaria Plataforma, just none of them remembered to let us know that before the day.)

Anyway, after a very long day on the convention floor and nothing but a Clif bar and a latte for lunch, I rolled into Churrascaria Plataforma ready to devour the whole place. The restaurant is famous for its "salad" bar, and one should not be fooled by the name. It is not just "salad" but pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables, cheeses, soup, casseroles, beans, and an impressive selection of sushi. A person could eat nothing but "salad" bar and come away feeling they'd had an excellent meal. I was impressed with the cleanliness and orderliness of the salad bar area, too. It was well stocked and well attended, and once I looked up to see a pair of girls checking the temperatures of the offerings with a digital thermometer and marking the results on a clipboard: no worries about food safety with an orderly operation like that!

Of course the best part of a Brazilian rodizio is the meat on swords. My previous experiences at other places has led me to believe that the poultry offerings are often just not as good as the other meats, so I confined myself to the beef, pork and lamb (though the bacon-wrapped turkey almost got me to cave in). The lamb was particularly wonderful, crusty and salty with a little rosemary. Ipanema Grill still has the best rodizio dish with their salt-crusted tri-tip but Churrascaria Plataforma certainly held their own and their salad bar is second to none. We didn't even attempt the dessert cart, which seems like complete folly to have at a place like that.

Having completely wiped out the virtuousness of our House of Vegetarian mock meat extravaganza, we walked the mile back to the hotel and collapsed into our uncomfortable beds for another chilly, restless night, bellies full of delicious meat.

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House of Vegetarian and Ferrara

"pork" and peanuts
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Jim Crocker, game and comics retailer extraordinaire, is forever being overlooked at game industry buffets and functions, sending up the forlorn cry of "Is there a vegetarian option?" in the meat-centric hubs of Las Vegas or Columbus or Indianapolis. As former vegetarians ourselves, Chris and I are sympathetic to his plight. (Ask Pramas sometime about the french fry sandwiches from the European vegan punk rock tour...)

Upon learning that Jim was going to be at NYCC, Chris had wanted to take him out to Vegetarian Paradise and I was heartily in favor as I'd eaten there before myself and was quite impressed with their mock meat dishes. If I'd had the access of ability to create mock duck or pork dishes like those, I might have kept to a more vegetarian lifestyle myself all these years. Anyway, Steve, Jim, Chris and I walked down to Mott Street with House of Vegetarian in mind as a back-up in case VP was no longer there, which ended up being the case.

House of Vegetarian didn't let us down. I've read some pretty savage reviews online of HoV and all I can say is they weren't eating what I was eating. The "pork" and peanuts house special was amazing, the orange "beef" and broccoli was out of this world. We also had a realistic approximation of General Tso's "chicken" and a dish of soft tofu and crispy noodles that I've forgotten the name of but enjoyed completely. When the portions were set in front of us we worried that we'd ordered too much but couldn't stop picking and nibbling even after we were "done" until eventually we ate it all.

Miniatures trip close-up

After dinner Jim wondered aloud if there might be a dessert option nearby and Chris willingly steered us toward Little Italy, where we stumbled into Ferrara and succumbed to the clarion call of pastries. Ferrara claims to be the oldest espresso bar in America, established in 1892. I had an eclaire and tiramisu martini that were to die for, while the guys engaged in other sorts of creamy and/or chocolate decadence. Despite being completely sated by House of Vegetarian, it was impossible to resist the assortments Ferrara presented. Excellent, excellent stuff. Open late and highly recommended.

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Carnegie Deli

Matzo Ball Soup
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
After arriving in New York and getting settled into our hotel, we decided that we definitely needed to have something to eat before hitting the Javits Center for set-up. Chris is my guide in these situations and he suggested the Carnegie Deli, a mere 20 block walk. Despite his years of living in NYC, Chris was a Katz Deli man and somehow had never chosen the Carnegie Deli before.

The Carnegie is one block further from our hotel than the Stage Deli and was packed wall to wall with tourists and newbies like ourselves. The portions were ridiculously large and more than one of the aging waitstaff was heard to say "Have you eaten here before?" after someone tried to order the "Woody Allen" (their combo pastrami and corned beef sandwich). Chris and I ended up deciding to split one of these sandwiches and a bowl of matzo ball soup each.

I will say the service left something to be desired. Chris tried to order the matzo ball and noodle soup but was served plain matzo ball soup. The soup itself, though not exactly what he'd actually ordered, was tasty and the matzo balls were delicious and fluffy. We were charged an additional $3 for splitting the dinner plate-sized sandwich (which was already pushing $20), which the waitress "split" onto another plate for us with a spoon, dumping a portion into my lap in the process. The sandwich itself was quite impressive if you're into big for big's sake. Taking up the whole plate and served with an additional side of bread, Chris and I each had two substantial sandwiches and made a hefty fifth sandwich to be wrapped and taken home with us. Still, one chocolate egg cream, one coke, two bowls of soup and a sandwich cost us $40 and in the end I had to say that Katz's pastrami was a better product. Katz's Deli cuts their pastrami thicker and it's less fatty, resulting in a better bite all around.

Carnegie Deli wasn't bad but I have to say that I wouldn't be eager to walk 20 blocks to go there again.

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Zombified by New York

Got to NYC at 4:30am by my body clock and after two hours of screwing around (and a long-ass ride on the A Train) we arrived at the "old school charm" of The New Yorker hotel, where one could feel the cold wind whistling into the room around the window air conditioning unit, where the only window coverings were roller blinds, and where two people trying to stand up at the same time had to negotiate about where to do it. If that sounds like a complaint, I had a reasonable expectation about what I was getting into and being within staggering distance of the Javits Center was a boon worth paying for. I was less enamored of the location when I was jet-lagged and trying to take a nap in the room before setting up the booth only to find that every siren-wielding vehicle in the city was apparently required to do laps around our building... or at least that's what it sounded like when for two straight hours there were constantly sirens blaring. And not just regular sirens, either, but the NYPD and NYFD seem to have their sirens hooked up to a wah wah pedal and take joy in having scratching contests ("w'-w'-woo'-w'-w'-weeoo weeoo-wee-w'-w'...") interspersed with cabbies, truck drivers and other motorists laying on their horns. Ah, New York.

The Comic Con show hours were brutal. A red-eye flight and set-up the first day, eleven hours on the show floor the second, ten hours open to the public on the third. By the time we got to the last day, the mere seven hours plus booth break-down seemed almost luxurious. Having our booth just kitty corner to Miss Horrorfest where they were playing this video on a constant loop was bad enough (she screams twice in a three minute video, so I figure we got to hear her scream about once every 90 seconds on average) but she was there live on Friday and would occasionally make with a live scream while posing with fans on top of it. We were well and truly zombified by the end.

We had time for about one decent meal a day. I would have a quick breakfast, a latte at the convention center, a Cliff bar for lunch and then, finally, a decent dinner sometime after 10:00pm. I'll follow up with some restaurant reviews and post some pictures of our decadent meals as I have the energy to do so. Got home last night at 3am body-clock time (having adjusted to Eastern Time right away) and finally fell asleep around 1:30am. Had to be up at 5:45am to pick up a Flexcar downtown and pick up Kate in Lake Forest Park so she could get to school on time. Right now I'm fighting the need for sleep and wondering if I dare bust into the Brazilian espresso we brought home from Porto Rico without Chris. I just may have to...

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Kronos Quartet

I was listening to a podcast this morning that used a song in their opening and closing that I recognized but couldn't put my finger on. I knew I knew the song but out of context I just couldn't place it right away. Suddenly, eureka! Kronos Quartet. But which song, which album? They've been releasing albums for over 20 years.

It would have been one of the albums I owned on cassette tape or LP. I would have bought it sometime after seeing them perform live at Carleton College, which means I was living in Northfield. If I was attending an event at Carleton I was probably dating my ex-husband (a Carletonian, in contrast to those St. Olafite Lion Rampant folk) but not married yet. Whittling back through my memories, I could narrow it down to a period between 1991 and 1993. Was it their album of Philip Glass? Deej introduced me to Philip Glass at Rampant House before 1991 and I definitely owned Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass at one point... Still, no, this song has a percussion and lacks Glass's swelling repetitions.

I tell you, it was driving me crazy, like hearing a snippet of a punk song co-opted for car commercial and being unable to place it or shake it out of my head.

Thankfully iTunes came to my rescue. The song was Mai Nozipo ("Mother Nozipo") from their Pieces of Africa album. Of course the search only made the need to hear the whole thing stronger... so I bought both Pieces of Africa and Performs Philip Glass. I'm powerfully transported back to 15 years ago.

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Brain Color

Your Brain is Purple

Of all the brain types, yours is the most idealistic.

You tend to think wild, amazing thoughts. Your dreams and fantasies are intense.

Your thoughts are creative, inventive, and without boundaries.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking of fictional people and places - or a very different life for yourself.



Carless in Seattle

Maybe I should have been more aggressive in promoting my decision to go carless after an accident cut our wheels out from under us three years ago. Maybe I could have turned it into a freelance writing gig or some other form of self-promotion... Sightline Institute founder Alan Durning has commemorated his mere one year of carlessness (for the same accidental reason) with a blog post and even though he's what others might consider a hardcore environmentalism/sustainability researcher, after a year of living the carless life in Seattle his family is still on the fence about committing to remaining carless in the longterm.

Reading the reporting today on just the fact that his family had gone a year without owning a car (instead using Flexcar, carpooling, biking, walking and borrowing) I was surprised at the backlash from people who felt that anyone advocating, even a little, that people could benefit physically, mentally, and financially by driving less must be planning to violently separate them from their cars. Comments on the Stranger Blog like these surprised me: "Oh, the sanctimony." and "What are the odds that the happily carless all just happen to live and work near good bus lines? It's not like a person can just plan it like that on purpose." Ok, yes, living within reasonable distance of a bus line is key to being able to live a life that depends on transit but the idea that we're all completely powerless and "can't" plan for such things, or that doing so makes one sanctimonious? Wow.

Living in Seattle, it's pretty easy to get around without owning a car but it's not painless. It's still a sacrifice, an inconvenience, and even a drag. I know that full well. Still, Pramas and I chose to live where we do precisely because of the transit lines: He doesn't drive and never has. Even though I owned a car, when we bought this house we were working at opposite ends of the city (me up in near the University and him down in Renton). A house in the secluded suburbs, predicated on driving everywhere for everything was not an option. The fact that two bus routes cross at the corner a few blocks from our house was a BIG selling point. The projected lightrail route that would be just another few blocks away (which we initially had hoped would be in by now, in fact) was another huge bonus that favorably impacted our decision. Even though we had a car at the time, transit considerations were part of the process.

Flexcar is certainly a boon and I wouldn't call my lifestyle "carless" since I do drive. In fact, my divorce agreement necessitates that I drive my daughter to see her father at least twice a month. I don't walk or bike nearly as much as I can (or should, considering my otherwise sedentary lifestyle). I've certainly gotten more rides home from Ray and Christine, Jess, and John and Jenny than I can count. I find that I don't go outside of my own pretty small circle of influence: I could take the bus out to visit Tim, or Evan and Rona but it's inconvenient, involves two or three bus transfers, limits my travel hours and, excuse piled on excuse, the bottom line is it's a pain in the ass so I don't do it. I could do more carlessly but I don't. It's not "I can't" but "I don't"; I choose not to, I'm responsible for that choice.

I'm not going to condemn anyone who doesn't make the same choices I do. Like Alan Durning, I often re-examine my situation and weigh the options, reconsider whether we should get a car again. I know I wouldn't want to try living without a car if I had a baby, for example. I've frequently wondered if Kate is suffering from not being part of those extra-curricular activities that I've avoided signing her up for because transportation would be too much of a hassle. On the other hand, Seattle provides about as many opportunities to live this way as a city can and at the end of the day I still feel pretty good about how our choice works for us and the positive impact we have on our community. It wouldn't kill a few more people to give a little more thought to restructuring their lives and giving it a try.

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Insult to Injury


Speaker Speaker AND The Thermals are playing a gig at Chop Suey on Wednesday night at 8:00pm. I, of course, will be wrapping up my futile proxy-representation of my non-English-speaking neighbors at the New Holly Home Owners Association meeting and catching my taxi to the airport, where I'll no doubt find my micky-fricky JetBlue flight canceled anyway! The Thermals will, predictably, be heading to NEW YORK in March.

Damn it all!

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That's dread you're feeling, chick

Yep, nothing like a trip to New York to inspire feelings of, well, dread in me.

Chris lived there for nine years and loves it. We joke that New York is his mistress. Ray loves it there. Jess loves it there. All of Chris's college buddies who still live there seem to love it. Me? Not so much with the love.

I've made an uneasy peace with New York. I don't want to stab it in its filthy heart when I land or anything. I can appreciate its allure; the culture, the campiness, the subway. There's no Katz's Deli in Seattle. I know New York has its features, it's just that I don't really want a pedicure at 2am so the fact that I could get one if I wanted to doesn't give me that thrill it gives some people.

I just can't share the enthusiasm when I have to listen to all the starry-eyed New York lovers swoon about how gorgeous and wonderful and open all night and perfect the city is... like boys who have been won over by the pretty party girl and just don't understand why I don't find her as cute as they do when she toddles home hiccuping and covered in her own oh-so-adorable puke. There are no piles of garbage as high as my head on the streets of Seattle. No attitude of "Rudeness? Welcome to New York, that's just the way things are, rube!" either. My bus might not be as reliable as the subway but it also doesn't smell like pee. You can ask someone if they know what time it is in Seattle without being immediately greeted with The Scowl that trained New Yorkers have perfected, not just wary of the scam but fully expecting it. I'm just not smitten with this good-time girl and I know admitting that puts me squarely into the cretin category for the millions of people who worship New York and its Greatest City in the World mystique. Ah well, no hipster points for me then.

Of course, it's not just my generalized New York ennui that has me dreading this trip. Because I wanted to take a non-stop red-eye (no sense paying for more nights in Manhattan than you absolutely have to) we're flying on... JETBLUE. (This is the only flight they make from Seattle to New York!) Yep, the airline that's been completely screwed all week because they couldn't figure out how to handle a snow storm that didn't involve holding their passengers hostage on the tarmac for 6-12 hours. They're still canceling flights and trying to clear their backlog a week later!

Then there's the job I'm going to New York to do: work New York Comic Con at the Javits Center, floor hours for ten and eleven hour days. Nothing thrills me with dread like the prospect of working until 8 or 9 at night and then getting up to do it again the next day. A show like GenCon is busy enough that time passes swiftly but Comic Con is a tangential show for us, like the ALA show was. Time is not going to pass swiftly.

I'm consoling myself with the slim chance that I might get to see Steve Colbert. More likely, I'll just see Gary Coleman.

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Conquest NW

ConQuest blue

Chris and I and Katherine got ourselves together today to go out the Bellevue and visit with our pals at Avalon Conventions, the fine folks who put on the Conquest shows all along the west coast from LA to Seattle.

As I said to Chris, I can't believe it's been a year since we were out at the airport Marriott at Conquest's first Seattle show with just over 150 other people. This year had the show in a new venue, working in close conjunction with Seattle-area game associations and fellow conventioneers such as the folks who organize Dragonflight and the guys who run Enfilade. The show brought in over 400 people this year, and brought up Dave Arneson as Legendary Guest of Honor, which was really neat.

We arrived a little late in the day and I desperately needed coffee to offset the sleepy-high feeling from the cold meds, but even so we managed to get in a fun game of Ticket to Ride. Kate took second place fair and square. I was three cards away from making my 19 point LA to Miami ticket when Chris went out. I'm no James J. Hill, that's for sure, though I did totally own Duluth. Got to talk to the re-AEG-enabled Marcelo and Non-Legendary Guest James Ernest for about five minutes each.

The con is still going on tomorrow but we're heading to NY Comic Con on Wednesday, so there'll be no President's Day convention attending for me. Still, it's shaping up to be a good, fun little show and I look forward to seeing it grow even more. (Not to mention looking forward to finding out more about 2008's Cruise Con! I hear it's going to be a Seattle to Alaska cruise and I'm totally into that.)

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Briefly beautiful weather

The weather was gorgeous this morning. Sunny, 60 degrees, spring-like. Despite feeling like I could trip over the line into full-blown sickness at any moment, as long as I'm on Theraflu I feel pretty good so I walked over the the house of one of the HOA board members and left a photocopy of the petition and a cover letter. Along the way I saw spring flowers coming up, fresh landscaping in the parks, people out on the walking paths and sitting on porches. Kids on bikes and scooters in the streets. Nice.

Helped along to the illusion of full health by the miracles of modern over-the-counter cold medicine and buoyed by sunny skies, I threw myself into a writing project, caught up on a couple of household chores and cooked up the flank steak I had marinating for last night (but didn't feel up to cooking).

Of course it was all just a tease, as it is February after all. By evening we had dark clouds rolling in and the forecast evening rain has started pelting the windows. The Theraflu has worn off and I'm about to dose myself with another cup and crawl into bed with a heating pad. I must thank my wise husband who cautioned me not to go overboard because I was seriously considering going out to do yard work and run errands all over town in my earlier false-Spring euphoria. That would have been foolish.... Rain is predicted the next three days and then I'm off to New York which will surely remind me that it is really is still winter.


Go get 'em, Killer!

My longtime friend, game-industry colleague (and one-time boss), John Nephew is getting involved in politics in his home of Maplewood, Minnesota. Here he takes the Maplewood City Council to task for failing to live up to their promises to the community:

It is precisely this incisiveness, this shrewd understanding of fiscal responsibilities and unflinching willingness to go to the guts of a problem that has made John such a formidable businessman. He would be an excellent asset to any board of directors, advisory committee, or council. I tried to enlist him to help clean up some of GAMA's glaring deficits when I was on the GAMA board and he wisely demurred in favor of getting more involved in local politics. We can see that impulse coming to fruition now.

Go get 'em, John!

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Waste: A Photo Essay

I recently ordered myself a new 12-inch non-stick skillet and a mini silicone spatula from Amazon.com. The skillet replaces a ten-year-old skillet whose Teflon coating is finally starting to blister and peel, the spatula replaces a similar spatula whose head detaches from its handle and allows all sorts of gunk to be trapped up inside. I suppose neither are strictly necessary but I didn't feel that I was being entirely frivolous in placing the order, either. I received both items in perfect condition:

What I had not anticipated when placing my order was the amount of packaging that would be involved!

I was really taken aback by the large box and didn't at first even realize what was contained inside. The frying pan manufacturer packed the pan in a sturdy box, wrapped the handles in protective covering, stablized the whole thing with additional cardboard inserts... and then Amazon packed that box inside of an even larger shipping box and packed cushioning material around that.

The spatula was even more ridiculous. Though ordered at the same time and requested to be shipped together, the two items came from different suppliers and so shipped separately. The spatula is literally small enough to fit in about the space of a standard business-size envelope. It actually arrived in a 12" x 9" x 4" box, with the remainder of the space taken up with plastic air pillows and other cushioning or promotional materials.

The whole incident got me thinking. What is the environmental impact of this act of commerce? I can (and do, and will continue to) recycle the cardboard and paper, but not the plastic or foam. Sometimes I save the yards of plastic air pillows that arrive in the various packages I receive to reuse them in packages I send out but I receive far more than I can use or store. What was the cost of shipping those two packages separately? Should I have just gone down to Southcenter or Williams Sonoma and picked the items up in person? What if they didn't have the items I wanted (and surely the local culinary store receives shipments that come in large boxes filled with packing materials, too). I know it sounds like I'm condemning Amazon for its packaging but I do understand that packaging to avoid damages is important to business. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this untidy method is actually the less environmentally (and commercially) damaging option when compared to a scenario where using less packaging results in more damages (resulting in more shipping, returns, and damaged goods that then go to waste instead of being put to use). Even so, I find the whole transaction has left me feeling unsettled about my choices. I'm definitely going to care for these new kitchen gadgets to make them last as long as possible (not that I wouldn't have anyway, but I still feel it's worth saying). If I'm going to generate this kind of impact, I'm going to make sure it was as "worth it" as possible.

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February 14th

I asked Chris to bring me some chocolates, now that he works right across the street from Metropolitan Market and their artisan chocolate selection. He certainly delivered! Handing me a bag heavy with chocolate bars he said he hoped it would "get you through the day." It'll do, it'll do...

I ended up spending a couple of hours trying to facilitate the petition process for my Chinese neighbors, with little luck. I went down to the local Department of Neighborhoods and met with Glenn Harris, who was very nice and generally sympathetic but didn't really have much to offer besides giving me the number of a SHA/New Holly community service liaison. The Department of Neighborhoods is kind of like a miniature City Hall, where people can come to pay (or resist paying) fines or utilities, get passports, and that kind of official city business. If we were talking about a community association they have some resources available in the form of grants for cleaning up parks or material improvements but no for private associations like the homeowner's association, even though the HOA deals with issue that affect the "neighborhood" and the "community". Anyway, he didn't blow me off, he just didn't really have the ability to help with, say, getting an translator or intervening on behalf of immigrant homeowners. After that, I walked next door to the office that was labeled "New Holly Management Office" and when I finally got someone to come to the front desk, they also threw up their hands and told me they couldn't help with making sure there was a translator at the meeting on Wednesday or in helping the non-English speaking homeowners. He also gave me the name of the SHA/New Holly liaison and the number for the utterly worthless and awful CDC Management company (who were the people who refused to give me contact information for the board of directors in the past, and with whom I had my long and very costly battle over "delinquent" dues, which I've gone on at length about in the past).

I did go over and talk a bit with Joy, the SHA community building cheerleader. Unfortunately, even though she was sympathetic on some points and helpfully called CDC to lend her name and position to the voice mail, I was again thwarted. She can help with "community" issues but not with things specifically involving the homeowners association. So, for example, she has a budget to translate a flyer into 6 or 8 languages so people in the neighborhood know that a safety or clean-up committee is being formed, but she can't provide any help in getting a translator for homeowner's association meetings, because those don't affect "the community". I did find out there's a yahoogroups e-mail list for interested homeowners and she was happy to provide contact information for the board members, so it wasn't a stonewalling situation... still, I'm frustrated.

I returned home and sent a request that the petition be added by the board to the agenda for next week's meeting and that translators be found so that a full and fair discussion could take place with these homeowners, even if they're just bi-lingual volunteers from the community or something. I was told that the budget only provides for translators for the annual meeting and "we" need to decide what "we" are willing to pay for... a discussion that is not taking place on a mailing list of 156 people (some of which are not even residents but are SHA or CDC employees) out of a community of between 560 and 840 actual homeowners)... and received a very strongly oppositional response from one of the list members right off the bat ("Using my capital to support people that ignore me and people like me is simply out of the question. In short I will not support any effort designed to make life easier for those that look down on me and people like me." and "I be damned if my funds will be used to support them in any fashion.") Of course, he's "not a racist". ::sigh:: Am I the ONLY person who has thought, "Hey, there's a Chinese Baptist church just on the other side of Beacon Avenue, maybe they could help us find an volunteer." or "High school students have a community service requirement for graduation, maybe we can find a couple of kids from the local high school willing to put in a couple of hours translating."?? It's us vs. them right off the bat?

Anyway, after that series of disappointments, I went home and got started on dinner.

A little baguette, a little brie, roasted beet, pistachio, and pear salad and some pan-seared scallops on linguine with tomato-cream sauce. I finished up with two individual chocolate chunk bread puddings (so rich I couldn't even finish mine but Pramas really liked his).

Awoke today with a nagging headache and touch of sore throat. Hope I'm not coming down with the plague that Jess came bearing on game night! We leave for New York Comic Con in a week and I just don't have time to feel like crap. Popping vitamins and echinacea and have some Zicam at the ready if it's needed. Ug.

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1000th Post

Today I make the 1000th post to Nikchick.com. Back in January 2003 I decided to move my paper journaling habit to the electronic world of the blog. I have to admit that I've been struggling with how to approach this milestone. I really didn't want to look back and see that I'd spent my 1000th post on a Lord of the Rings character meme or detailing the contents of my refrigerator.

As seemingly arbitrary as milestones can sometimes be (why does the 3000th Iraq War casualty rise to consciousness more than the 2999th or the 3001st? Why is turning 30 or 40 or 50 a big deal, but 33, 44 or 55 less so?) I do think they play a role in focusing us. As long as we don't obsess, freak out, or instill the milestone with undue importance I think it's beneficial to recognize certain milestones and the 1000th post on Nikchick.com was one of those I felt some attachment to.

Often I've felt like I'm just drifting along, pulled along the flowing river of life, responding to things as they come up but never really getting out ahead of myself that much. On one hand, in theory at least, I can live in the here and now without pining for things that might be or becoming so entrenched on some pre-determined course that I miss other opportunities that present themselves. On the other hand, and certainly in practice, I run the risk of living unconsciously and without being active in determining the course of my life. Without a milestone, I am slack, I am lazy, I have no reason to strive.

And so I pondered what to write, how to recognize with some application of consciousness, that I have reached this milestone.

The blogging world is almost inexpressibly large. I keep abreast of happenings with friends and family through their blogs and they do the same with me. I rely on the free expression of politically passionate bloggers for news and analysis. I indulge my creativity in blogging communities for food, cooking, and crafting. I stimulate myself in ways that I could not otherwise achieve through other bloggers' jobs, friends, families, and travels. Expanding my world to embrace other bloggers challenges me in ways that I could not achieve in my daily life within my relatively small world.

Blogging has proven superior to pen and paper journaling for me. I am moved to try to write more frequently, even if it's just a short anecdote or a recipe update. My paper journal often suffered from my inattention during busy periods and then a long, rambling, inevitably incomplete "catch up" entry and promises to myself to do better in the future. I will often record things, such as funny exchanges with Kate, that I would never have taken the time to write down by hand in a journal. I am glad to have those snapshots, those brief moments recorded. I must also admit that the interactive aspects of the blog, the challenges from people who call me on my myopia or naivety, the comradery of people who understand my outbursts of frustration or discouragement or despair, the support and appreciation of those who read along and find something worthwhile in my words... it isn't exactly a dialog but the interaction is meaningful and, at important points, sustaining.

So. There it is. My 1000th post. This blogging thing is totally working for me so watch out for post 2000 sometime before Thanksgiving 2009.

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The revolution will be translated

Today a man from our neighborhood with a very thick Chinese accent knocked on the door and, with the help of a printed petition and much pantomiming, asked me to sign a petition protesting the increase in home owner's association dues. I happily signed the petition. Even though the actual increase in dues doesn't affect me as much as it does others (it's the people in the duplexes and townhouses who are most affected) I object to the rate of the increases on principle, especially after hearing at the last homeowner's association meeting I attended that the strategy of the Seattle Housing Authority to set the initial dues low (below a sustainable level for the services provided) and make up the deficits until the homeowners took control of the association themselves, increasing the dues every year along the way. It's a terrible "strategy" to bait people with a mandatory homeowner's association fee that is artificially low, knowing that the rate is flat-out unsustainable.

Anyway, as I've mentioned before, language is a barrier in our community. Many cultures are represented here and many languages are spoken. People from all across Asia and Africa are represented and it's a struggle to convey basic information let alone organize and work together. I was glad to lend my name to the list.

Several hours later came another knock at the door. The original man had returned, this time with another man whose English was a little better but still not great. They wanted to know if I could do something, something to do with the petitions. I thought maybe they wanted me to walk the neighborhood with them, talking to the residents who speak English (or who don't speak Chinese). With increasing frustration we tried to communicate, the new man even tried to call his daughter on the phone (apparently she provided the English for the petition in the first place) but she didn't answer.

It was then I struck upon an idea: I'd see if I could ask my neighbors for some help translating. I suggested we go next door. I knew they were home because I'd been out to get the mail earlier and had seen them through the back window making dinner. Knock. No answer. The first man rapidly rang the doorbell a few times and then the mother peeked out the blinds. She seemed very suspicious at first, while the two guys gestured at me, so I smiled and waved (which basically comprises the whole of my relationship with them these last six years) and with recognition she started yelling. Soon their teenage son came to the door. The poor kid was promptly put on the spot as the two men and his mother started talking back and forth explaining the situation. Thankfully the kid's English is good! He was able to tell me that they wanted to make copies of the petitions and have me deliver the petitions to the board of directors at the meeting. Now, I received a notice of a meeting happening on the 21st (the day I leave for New York) but they're insisting that no, it's in two days and they'll bring me everything tomorrow if I would agree to represent them, since none of them speak English well and don't think they could bring their case effectively (and they're right).

So. That's how I agreed to become the representative proxy for the petition-signers who object to the large increases in homeowner's dues. I also got to meet and talk to the kid next door (Kevin) for the first time since his parents sent him over here to find out where we'd bought our lawnmower about six years ago. I've also met two of my perfectly nice fellow New Holly residents despite the language barrier we suffer from. Plus I get to help out. Regardless of the outcome, these homeowners deserve to be heard and I'm honored that they felt I was approachable enough to ask my help.




CBS News is running the headline story "U.S. military officials on Sunday accused the highest levels of the Iranian leadership of arming Shiite militants in Iraq..."

Ok, so this is something that's been bothering me for a while. I mean, OF COURSE Iran is meddling in the situation! Don't they have a vested interest in what happens on their border? Iran and Iraq have a long history of armed conflict, border skirmishes, and of course the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 (during which time the US materially supported Iraq's war effort. OF COURSE they're trying to sway the outcome of things now that the Bush Administration's bungled war effort has opened the door for them to try and secure a government more favorable to their interests.

Would the United States do any different if, say, Quebec finally decided to mount an armed revolt and separate from Canada (with Libertarian-style separatists from the prairies taking that opportunity to also declare independence) and Canada devolved into a bloody, sectarian civil war? Are we really expected to believe that the US wouldn't totally be helping out "our side" in the conflict with everything from money to arms to intelligence and even soldiers? That the US wouldn't feel we had a vested interest in what happened on our borders, and every right to meddle in the outcome? What if Cuba or Venezuela or Iran were involved in fighting for "the other side"?

I've seen a lot of finger pointing about how Iran's involvement in Iraq is the same as "war on the United States" or is "supporting terrorism" and I just can't buy it. As if the United States has more right to shape things in Iraq than neighboring Iran, or than the Iraqis themselves? Please. I'm sure the British forces during the American Revolution would have declared those revolutionaries who hid in haystacks and fought "dirty" against honorable men fighting in uniform and formation "terrorists" had the term been as much the rage then as it is now. By these terms, the United States of America was founded on "terrorism".

The current build-up intended to target Iran is extremely worrying. The propaganda pieces being seeded in the media right now are intended to make Iran seem like the enemy (one of an ever-shifting mass of convenient enemies) and to inflame American patriotism ("Those dirty Iranian bastards are responsible for the bombs that are blowing up good American soldiers! This means war!") in the same way we were manipulated about Osama bin Laden, weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's now thoroughly debunked "connections" with al Qaeda, and about seven or eight other excuses and justifications for war that have been trotted out through the course of this debacle. Again, I'm not buying it. I hope no one else is buying it either.

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My husband made Maple-Frosted Maple Cupcakes tonight. Yum!



Ars Magica

Alright, after two straight weeks of beating around the bush and getting our game group into an Ars Magic mindset, I'm finally going to start running something. I've always enjoyed Ars Magica with a heavy helping of house rules, ignoring some of the more fiddly bookkeeping bits (screw Encumbrance!) and never, ever adhering to history (my very favorite game took place on a North American continent "discovered" through a magical accident around the time of the founding of the Order of Hermes).

I have several things hanging over me this weekend that I could continue working on. I'll probably give them some attention tomorrow. Today, I'm populating the covenant. Tim was good enough to lend me his copy of the new Covenants book and I've got a couple of the new Houses of Hermes books, too.

The campaign kicks off with the PCs arriving at a far-wilderness "outpost" Winter covenant in a setting very roughly inspired by the setting of Greg Key's Briar King novels, where the influence of faerie and church are on the rise and the Order of Hermes is caught between. Our group has been sent to the covenant by the order to investigate why it has fallen out of communication and what is happening further out in the wilderness area since the spotty reports that used to come through the covenant have been troublingly few, vague and unsettling considering the rise of the faerie.

It's been ages since I touched ArM but I'm really feeling enthusiastic about starting up something new.



More Evidence

...of my magnetic personality, or whatever it is that fuels my anti-technology aura. The light above my head made a slight cracking sound and a few seconds later went out. No biggie, light bulbs blow out all the time, nothing too weird about that.

So I thought until I went to change the bulb.

When I reached up into the fixture, the glass part of the bulb came off in my hand, leaving the metal portion screwed into the still-electrified socket!

That is unusual enough but more unusual because the bulb in the other corner did the same thing a few months ago. I never did anything about it and that corner has been dim ever since because I did not want to fiddle with shutting off the power, bringing in the ladder from the garage and whatever else might be involved in trying to remove the bulb remnants from the socket in the ceiling.

Now it seems like I have no choice but to take care of it as both lights have blown out and the side of the room where I have my desk is dark. Woohoo, something else to add to my list of household chores for the weekend.



Not a Resolution

I don't do resolutions per se but as 2005 was coming to an end Chris and I agreed that we should be more active in trying to do things, with a goal of doing something together once a month. I suggested that the "doing" part should involve being active and out of our usual rut in some way. Going over to Ray and Christine's doesn't count because it's practically our second home, but going out with Evan and Rona would. Anything that involves needing to get directions before we can get there counts. The "things" part had just a couple of restrictions; it needed to be something unrelated to work and it had to be something we were doing together. Game convention? I do that for work... and we can go to one for fun but it doesn't put a check in the doing things box. Writer's workshop, film festival, musical performance, new restaurant? Now we're talking.

We did pretty well at this last year. Looking back on 2006:

January: We went to The Harvest Vine with Jess & Shelby.
February: We spent the weekend in Vancouver and tried out Feenie's for the first time.
March: We'd planned to go to Vegas but ended up sick, sick, sick. Went to see Anti-Flag.
April: I kidnapped Chris and we tried out new restaurants, including Vios and Sweet and Savory.
May: SIFF! Baby Gramps at the Can Can!
June: More SIFF!
July: We threw a Stormhoek Wine Party.
August: With GenCon, the AIDS Walk, a trip to see my grandma and Jess's birthday, we were plenty busy, though not always doing things together.
September: We did Bumbershoot this year for the first time.
October: Another busy month, but we managed to sneak in a viewing of American Hardcore and a Bouncing Souls show. Not bad.
November: We thought for the better part of a year we'd be in England. When that trip was abruptly canceled we spent a weekend in Portland instead.
December: We took the ferry to Bainbridge Island (fun!) and endured 36 hours with no power (less fun). Both qualify as "doing something" together, though.

For 2007 I'd like to up the ante a little and not necessarily count punk shows and restaurants. If the idea is to just have some sort of date-night together, those are perfectly enjoyable date-night venues. Ideally, I'd like to expand my horizons to include things like visiting the Olympic Peninsula, visiting some Pacific Northwest wineries, spending a weekend at the coast, and that kind of thing. We've already talked about maybe hitting the Bay Area in June or July in honor of Pramas' birthday and the launch of Pirates of the Burning Sea. To help get this continuing Not-Resolution off the ground in '07, I've made reservations (thanks to another crazy good deal from Hotwire) at a rather luxurious hotel in Vancouver for next month and I'm giving Gastropod serious consideration for our limited dining hours.



A Slice of Life

I started to write a whine about how the last week has been a blur, how I was just too damn busy to take the time to go to this month's Seattle Arts and Lecture series event tonight (Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and recipient of one of the MacArthur Genius grants, which had the potential to be interesting), all my frustrations with phone trees and petty bullshit...

Then I said screw it and updated my recipe pages instead.




What dreams

You know you've been playing too much Viva Pi˝ata when your dreams involve pairing up animals and trying unsuccessfully to get them to "romance".

Chris noted that my dreams almost always involve being powerless and frustrated. He's right. My dream life never involves peaceful walks on the beach, relaxing with friends, or seeing loved ones in a non-stress environment. No, my dreams are of living under strict Islamic rule where I can't greet my male friends or drive a car, even though my husband can't drive, or being trapped in a big house, or Pramas being mind-controlled into wearing yellow on yellow. I dream I'm answering e-mails, or editing by-laws (in my GAMA days), of backstabbing so-called friends where I relive the anguish of their betrayals in new dreamy ways, or being in a car crash.

A couple weeks ago I dreamed that I was a fugitive from the government. I'd discovered that I was being tracked, pursued by shadowy forces who wanted Kate. I couldn't call Chris for help, I couldn't access my money, I was literally running for my life and hiding in dumpsters, scavenging crude weapons to try to protect myself and my daughter from high-tech adversaries.

The other night I dreamed that Mike Webb had my daughter with him at his hotel (he was visiting town) and I had to try to pick her up but I'd left the house with no cell phone, no directions, no money and no car. Who could I call? Who could come help me? How could I find Kate? Time was ticking and I couldn't solve the problem, I had nothing.

On the scale of things, dreaming about feeding and tending my pi˝ata garden (unsuccessful as I was at the "romancing") is pretty mild for me.

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Ipanema Grill

Introduced Lemuriapress and bbcaddict to the Ipanema Grill last night. bbcaddict was nice to come out with us even though she's just getting over an illness. We were seated at the same table that hosted our party during the Green Ronin summit in October and weladies were positioned with a view of the big video screen that was playing footage of Carnival floats along Rio's Sambodrome. Carnival 2007 is February 17, 18, 19, 20... there's still time, Lemuriapress.

The meat was particularly good last night, especially if you like it rare. Mmmm, rare meat. I made the mistake I always make in trying the chicken (which is ok but just doesn't compare to, say, salt-crusted tri-tip or steak threaded with cheese). One by one we dropped out, sated and I really thought I was done but revived myself for not one but two slices of grilled pineapple dusted with cinnamon. So good.

After dinner Chris and I headed over to the ZigZag for one drink and to congratulate Murray on his appearance on Playboy's list of the top ten bartenders in America, as it was practically on the way to the bus stop (if you don't count the thirteen flights of pedestrian stairs).

Slept well last night. Safeway is delivering coffee and other staples for life sometime between 10:00 and noon, and then I'm off to get Kate at around 2:00. Sounds like I have just enough time to play a little Viva Pi˝ata on our newly restored and returned XBox 360. Lazy Sunday!

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Children of Men

Finally got to see this one last night. It lives up to the hype, thank goodness. Chris pointed out, and I agree, that it is nice to see a science fiction movie done in this way with a good story, solid acting, and without the reliance on special effects. In the same way that movies based on comics too often rely on special effects and don't bother with a tight story ("That was Lex Luther's evil master plan? Really? Lame.") sci-fi movies fall into the same trap of lingering on the neato-cool special effects and letting everything else fall away (I'm looking at you, George Lucas!).

I have to say I'm liking Clive Owen. I'd never seen him before Sin City and came away from that movie remembering his name. I had the same experience with Kevin Spacey after seeing him in The Usual Suspects. I look forward to seeing more of him.

As the credits rolled, a younger woman at the end of our row said, "Man, that was depressing." I laughed to myself because I didn't find it particularly depressing. Life in America today is depressing! Watching as we hurtle toward global war, cultural bankruptcy, and planetary extinction every day in the real world is depressing! That movie? Dark, sure. Brutal? In places. Depressing? Ha. HA, I say.

Anyway, good film. I look forward to seeing it again.



The Smirk

Pramas has it. He can't help himself. He'll tell you how authority figures throughout his youth would chastise him for his expression when he didn't even realize he was smirking. When I saw it today, I knew I was in trouble.

I should have suspected something earlier but I've been busy and distracted. When he suggested that we meet in the International District for lunch, I was pleased to have an excuse to break instead of working through my lunch as I have been all week. When I mentioned needing to check the bus schedule, he replied that he was hoping I'd bring the Flexcar as he had a "bulky package" that he didn't want to carry on the bus. This could have been a clue had I been interested to ask but I gave it no thought. It could have been a bunch of reference material, or something he'd picked up from Metropolitan Market for all I knew or cared. Sure, no problem, I'll bring the Flexcar.

After lunch, I announced that I had to be going because I needed to get back in time to finish some errands and pick up Kate to bring her to her dad's tonight. "And my bulky package!" Chris reminded. Right, the bulky package. I began to give this some slight thought only at this point. What could it be? Oh well, I would find out in a moment...

Jess pulled his car around to where I was parked. Chris got out, The Smirk in full effect. "What are you smirking about?" I asked. In response, he pulled this from the back seat:

Hard to tell from my quicky photo, I know, but that would be a framed movie poster from the Thai (?) release of The Killer. It's over three feet tall and over two feet wide.

I believe my first words, to Jess's great amusement, were, "What the fuck is that?" which I guess makes me somewhat the stereotypical wife in this scene (though in stereotype I'd be presented with a mounted moose head or Elvis lamp or something). Chris, laughing, said, "I told Jess you'd either think it was really cool or you'd punch me." Well, I didn't punch him... I just want to know where the hell we're supposed to put it as nearly every square foot of wallspace in our house is already taken up. Those walls that don't already have shelves mounted on them have framed Ars Magica art, Button Men originals, the framed cover for Into the Maelstrom (the Warhammer 40K anthology for which Pramas wrote the title story), a giant map of the known 40K universe, blah dee blah dee blah. Shoot, I have two substantial piles of framed award certificates that can't be displayed because we have nowhere to hang them.

The Smirk means trouble. Watch out for The Smirk!



No Finland


A year ago, Chris accepted an invitation to be a guest at Recombination in Cambridge, so we've had to turn down an invitation to go to Ropecon.


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Running to stand still

My god, I've been so busy. I have a "to do" list a mile long, much of it with hard deadlines (tax deadlines, convention deadlines, production deadlines). Mail this thing TODAY, respond to this TODAY, fix this TODAY. Of course, as always happens at times like this, there is the inevitable waste of time: 20 minutes on hold here, an hour screwing with the printer that keeps falling off the network there, until 12 hours have slipped by like water and I'm still surrounded by the pile of work that has been slightly reduced or at least reorganized but doesn't look any smaller.

It's times like this I remember James Wallis' old sig file: I have so much to do I'm going to bed.

I wish!