Discolor Online

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


The weeks roll on

First off, thanks to everyone who helped make my birthday so great! Getting all the messages with recipes of all stripes from so many of you was like opening up dozens of little birthday presents. I was positively inundated and it was a delight. I'm still deciding exactly how I want to put the birthday book together, so if you still want to send something to me but were afraid it was too late, please do. I'll finalize the book after Christmas sometime, I think.

We're still in limbo on the heating issue. I have been exchanging e-mail with a plumber who I hope will come and install a pressure gage and a heat exchanger so we can keep an eye on the system and reduce the chances of anything truly catastrophic happening while we limp through this winter (and try to figure out how to get the additional tens of thousands of dollars a full "rip out all the walls" replacement of the existing system).

I swear everything in the house is choosing this time to break down! Not only am I dealing with the heating system BS and coaxing the clothes dryer to limp along for just a while longer but the dishwasher is not getting the dishes clean and it seems to be intermittently leaking. Then his morning when I went to the refrigerator (the refurb fridge I bought a couple years ago when our came-with-the-house fridge died) and the inside was HOT. Not just warm, not "oh, the door didn't get shut all the way" room temp, but hot enough to melt the butter I had on the top shelf. Why? Apparently something broke somewhere and the inside lights were on ALL NIGHT even though the door was closed. The bulbs got so hot they melted the cover of the fixture (which fell off into the fridge) and proceeded to heat up everything else within 10-12 inches. I had to unscrew the bulbs to shut the lights off and they were so blisteringly hot that even working with an oven mitt and (eventually) a leather glove, I still managed to slip and burn a blister on my finger. Lovely way to star the day. Ha.

My mother came up for an unexpected visit after my birthday and it was fun to see her. She sat in the kitchen with me, reading over my recipe books and cooking magazines while I turned the last of the summer tomatoes into marinara sauce and whipped up a dinner from The Herbfarm Cookbook (pork tenderloin so good that Kate had seconds, took it in her lunch, and begged me to make it again within the week). She's driving down to Arizona at the end of this week to be around for my grandmother, who is having yet another medical issue (this time multiple lumps in her breast) on top of her heart problems and failing kidneys from the last two near death episodes. Mom wanted me to drive down with her but I just don't have it in me. I hope I don't regret not going. Grandma wrote to tell me she fully expects "another miracle" but every time something new comes up I can't help worrying that this will be the one. Mom promises to keep me informed.

Meanwhile Pramas and I have been tag-teaming the several hours a day to research the ins and outs and every minute aspect of Dragon Age: Origins now that it's available for the Xbox. When Chris was working on Box Set 1 for the tabletop game he had access to documents with much of this information in spreadsheet or table form but seeing it all put together and working with the visuals and the game play is a different beast and very inspirational. I'm LOVING the game, it's exactly the sort of game I want. The depth of characters, the richness of the world, the ability to do more than just roam from room to room killing things... I'm a sucker for the writing, the voice acting, the development of the NPCs. I adore the refinements to the relationship system with each Bioware release. I'm finishing up my second run through and already plotting my third. In short, Bioware owns me. Good thing we'll soon have the tabletop game out (it's been out for approvals for a while now and I'm biting my nails to nubs hoping we can get it approved and out to stores before the end of the year!) because I'm smitten with the world and want to explore more. Speaking of, I think my shift is starting any minute now. Fereldon here I come.

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Divisiveness: not just for politics anymore

Pramas recently updated his blog with some commentary on divisive politics ( Real Americans ) that pretty much exactly matches what I would have to say on the topic. I've just had no time to post recently I was just going to do a simple "Me too" and link to it but something else caught my attention just now and I am so disgusted I have to say something.

From the Gen Con and Origins Charity Auctions report site:

On Saturday, August 15th, 2008 at 6:00 PM, the Gen Con Live Game Auction hosted their traditional charity auction. This year, the event was in honor of Gary Gygax. Originally the charity chosen for GenCon was Gary's favorite charity, the Christian Children's Fund. Unfortunately, when they found out that the money they would get came partially from sales of Dungeons and Dragons they decided not to be the sponsored charity.

The charity auction at Gen Con 2008 raised almost $18,000 that could have gone to making a "lasting difference in the lives of children in need"! To quote from the "donate now" page of the Christian Children's Fund (emphasis theirs):

Your donation to Christian Children's Fund will make a lasting difference in the lives of children in need. Your generosity provides crucial assistance for children around the world —children who face hunger, disease, violence, natural disasters and extreme poverty.

Your support is urgently needed, and Christian Children's Fund is committed to your privacy and security. We will not sell, trade or rent any personal information you provide.

Get that: your support is URGENTLY NEEDED. Unless you're a gamer. Unless you play Dungeons & Dragons, whose creator chose this as his favored charity. Christian Children's Fund claims elsewhere on their website that they believe "that all of our actions must be guided by the utmost integrity and transparency" (again, emphasis theirs). Utmost integrity? Better children starve and suffer than take money from generous, charitable gamers? Who makes that decision (and how can they live with themselves)?!

Much of the readership of this blog comes from the gamer community. We know we're not a threat to society, we know that gaming is just one aspect of our lives (be it our work, our hobby, or both) and that being a gamer and being a moral, decent, (yes, even religious... even, <gasp> Christian) person are not mutually exclusive yet gamers continue to be portrayed as mentally unstable freaks or dangerous devil worshipers (whichever is most in vogue at the moment).

To veer off into politics just for a second (hang with me), recently Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president. I'm linking to a part of the transcript that my friend JD over at FoldedSpace posted the other day.

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I've noticed that in talking about these divisions I sometimes run into people who think it's not really a big deal, that it's all blown out of proportion because of the current political races or that these Us vs. Them views are confined to isolated corners of Appalachia and not of real consequence.

Unfortunately, I don't think we've really put these divisions to rest at all. The fact that it was so easy to get crowds riled up and screaming out that Obama is a "terrorist" or a "Muslim" (or just the shameful way "Muslim" has become a pejorative the likes of which would never be so publicly tolerated if aimed at any other religious or ethnic group) shows us just how close to the surface these things are, often existing with as little justification or defensible rationale as Christian Children's Fund's decision not to accept the charitable donation from Gen Con. Blacks vs. Asians. Whites vs. Hispanics. Christians vs. Muslims. Heterosexuals vs. homosexuals. "Coastal elites" vs. "Joe Six-Pack".

I think everyone needs to remember the lesson of the Star-Bellied Sneetches.

via videosift.com

via videosift.com

Aaaand, I'm spent.

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Wine and Games

Jess has a wine locker at a wine storage place here in Seattle. One of the benefits of this is that they have a room that members can use for private tastings or small gatherings. It was the perfect location for a little wine and gaming. Originally we were going to play some old-school D&D but we were down a couple players and the GM had a hard week so we defaulted to Descent instead. Great space. I took a bunch of photos.

Sunday Pramas left for GDC so Kate and I cooked up a batch of food John and Jenny. Yesterday was the official due date (though no baby sign yet) and we wanted to make sure they were loaded up with some food in the freezer while they wait for their little pumpkin to arrive. They got a batch of Thai-style Ground Beef, a couple pans of Chicken Enchiladas Verdes, and some Lasagna Rolls that Kate did herself from start to finish. Then we baked up a pan of Chicken with Olives and Lemon and a rice cooker full of rice and arrived with dinner hot and ready to go. Had a nice dinner and and even nicer visit. Am very excited to see them with their baby... not long now.

I also uploaded a gazillion photos that have been sitting on my hard drive waiting for attention. I've got a set for our trip to Boom Noodle, my visit to Brouwer's for Belgian beers and pomme frites, a photo set from the Theo Chocolate tour, photos from Jenny's baby shower last month, a look at the room where Chris did his sleep study, and a recent visit to Aoki Sushi.

Whew. You'd think I'd been busy or something.

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Technology's continuing campaign to thwart me

Friends offered up some helpful troubleshooting tips for the Xbox 360 problem but to no avail. My power source worked fine with the borrowed Xbox but offers nothing to the console it goes with.

Tomorrow I finally have someone coming in to fix our washing machine, after several months of nursing it along and then another several months of bringing my laundry to a drop-off service (which resulted in an unfortunate "bleach episode") and/or heading over to borrow Ray and Christine's machines. Here's hoping it actually gets fixed and it's not just another repairman dead end like some of my other attempts.

Over the weekend I bought two programs, one business and one leisure. I bought the business program first and was intending to spend the weekend working with it but I could not get it to function as advertised and, of course, their service department is only open from 7am to 3pm (hello East Coast!) Pacific Monday through Friday. Since I found myself unexpectedly free from my plan, I went trolling for a computer game to satisfy my desire for some "veg out" time. I bought Neverwinter Nights 2 after Kate told me she'd been playing at her dad's and having fun with it. I should have stuck with the Nancy Drew series and Legend of the Crystal Skull which was recently released. Neverwinter Nights 2 was nothing but frustration for me. My desktop machine doesn't have the right video hardware and my laptop has the right everything except gigahertz. It literally took me all weekend to screw around with those programs, multiple downloads, patches, machine reconfigurations, blah blah blah... all to find out that it wasn't going to happen.

Hell, even Facebook was refusing to let me play my last couple of Scrabulous turns (though really, once I was 100 points in the hole it really didn't matter anyway).

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Why I stay away from message boards

I was up a little early this morning and had a bit of time to go poking around the ol' Internet for fun so I scanned through a couple of message boards, looking for interesting conversations. Over at Story-games.com, I stopped to browse a thread titled Ars Magica - my first dirty hippy game. ArM is my first love and even though the old girl is looking a little old and haggard these days so are we all.

I found myself reading along, happily thinking to myself "Yeah, man, you tell 'em about troupe-style play," or "Oh, you're missing the point on the magic system there, snarkipants... I hope someone sets you straight." Several people reminisce back to the days of Ars Magica Second Edition, which is when my ArM infatuation was also its strongest. Before the days of the Berklist, before the days of excessive Latin and history police scolding the non-compliant about their conjugation or their anachronisms.

Many people who know me in real life have heard my patented Ars Magica Rant. For over 20 years people have grossly misunderstood the game and continually found ways to miss the damn point to my intense frustration. Back in yon olden days I wrote magazine articles and contributed to Alarums & Excursions to get my case out "in defense of the grog." Colleagues who I respected as clever designers and experienced roleplayers time after time showed astonishing blindness where Ars Magica was concerned. Oh, they liked parts of it but they were blind to its metagame balance every time.

In the course of that single thread, I enjoyed a brief and happy nostalgia thinking back to my glory days and the height of my Ars Magica passion (where I was playing ArM up to three times a week with different groups), was dragged back through the dark days of 3rd Edition ArM and the 4th Edition "fix" (an ordeal that so wearied me I barely bothered to crack the book open when it finally came out through Atlas Games), and by the end I was once again shaking my fist at the screen and growling "No, no you fools!" like some crazed mad scientist game designer. I've resolved not to register at the site precisely to keep myself from posting any insane rants.

People consistently miss that Ars Magica IS balanced. They consistently look at the "weird" ideas like characters held in common and shared GM duties (under the umbrella of troupe-style play) as a fringe thing or a "technique," an extraneous add-on to an otherwise appealing system. I've become even more strident about this in my older age: playing ArM without those things is like playing Vampire with only Virtues and no Flaws (or whatever the kids call them these days). Shut up with the whining about the Latin in the magic system, it's no harder to learn than made up rpg lingo or understanding what it means to have a "proficiency bonus" what "obfuscate" does. If you're playing in a game where "Magi go around doing something cool, the companions help and the grogs carry the baggage, stand around looking tough, and say <i>yes master</i> a lot" you're playing with assholes, find a better group. No, the game would NOT be better if the characters were "balanced in terms of the power" and HELL NO you shouldn't be trying to rotate the Storyguide every scene!

gnash, gnash, gnash...

I wish I could say it was these kids today but really it's been like this for 20 years now and even with all the young up-and-comers and their talk of game design revolution, nothing has changed for poor Ars Magica. People still don't get it and I'm no longer young and foolish enough to think they will.

Backing away from the message boards now...



Game Night 1

For the last while Tuesdays have been "Game Night" around here. "Game Night" might or might not actually involve gaming, depending on who can make it and what kind of week we've all had. Sometimes it's more of an "Eat and Bitch Night" and that's cool, too. Lately, SassyRonin has had a conflict on Tuesdays and has valiantly made the effort to come to "Game Night" anyway, often leaving his house (some 20 miles from Casa Ronin) after 8:00pm and driving across the whole of Seattle to join us, sometimes an hour and a half after everyone else had arrived.

In an effort to be more sensitive to his conflict, we're trying out Thursdays as "Game Night" instead but that's put the newly-recruited Jeremy out, as he's got conflicts on Thursdays. Seniority wins out and SassyRonin has been part of our "Game Night" since there's been a game night but we felt bad that we'd invited Jeremy to join us and then promptly switched things up so he couldn't join us after all.

In that vein, we had a mini "Game Night" with Jeremy tonight even though the rest of the gang is coming over on Thursday. It probably won't happen that often but this week is Double-Gaming Fun Time. A little dinner (stuffed bell peppers, bread from Columbia City Bakery with some homemade rosemary-garlic butter, and a heart of romaine salad with a soy "Caesar" dressing), a little wine (Bogle Petit Syrah is a current favorite and stand-by) and some Ticket to Ride Switzerland. Plus, we were all finished and cleaned up by 10:00! Score!

I really enjoy Ticket to Ride. I'm not nearly as into it as Rick Achberger but I'm virtually always up for a nice, friendly game. I usually come in last but still have fun while I'm playing which is really the mark of an excellent game. (Ticket to Ride is one of the games chosen for Hobby Games: The 100 Best and every time I play I feel, yep, it sure does deserve to be in the book.) I've yet to play the straight Europe version, but I've recently played both Ticket to Ride - Märklin Edition and Ticket to Ride - Switzerland Expansion. Both add some new mechanics (Märklin adds passengers, Switzerland adds tunnels) that change up the game in fun and interesting ways. (Tunnels are scary!) I won for the first time tonight, purely by lucky draw on the route cards and being able to construct the longest route. I usually come in dead last, so winning on the Swiss board was a real treat.



Halo 3

I tried playing Halo 3 last night.

I know next to nothing about Halo. What I know I've picked up from occasionally watching Tim and Kate play, or from seeing Red vs. Blue. Master Chief, needler, warthog. That's about all I know. Soldier-guys shooting up Alien-guys. If there's more, I don't know it.

Shooter gamers are not really my thing but I'm getting desperate. Last winter's infatuation with Viva Pinata cooled when I reached the hardcore gamer stage and would have had to spend a week of real time breeding Taffly herds to attract the pinatas I really needed to attract the high-level rare creature I wanted to attract. Screw that, I was done. There's been no new Knights of the Old Republic-style game (KOTOR2 pissed me off SO bad I can't even count it). I haven't had any Guitar Hero action since the "Bonnie Incident" and I'm waiting for the wireless guitar before I get a replacement...besides, Rock Band is just around the virtual corner.

We'd recently been gifted with a copy of Halo 3, though, so I broke it out and gave it a shot, running through on easy. I really don't know what I'm doing, so it's been a learning experience. I don't even know what the plot is (I missed Halo 2 completely), what the evil aliens are called, what one weapon does compared to another. I can barely orient myself or move around without accidentally looking at my feet, or backing up off a damn bridge and accidentally drowning. I realize the Master Chief is some sort of badass but not so much when I'm playing him. When the club-wielding berserker alien was chasing me into corners and clubbing my brains out, I was screaming like the girl I am. Running and screaming. And dying.

Chris watched me for a little while. His only comment was "I guess the immersive experience is working. That guy is scaring the crap out of you." And he was right.

I'm not sure how far I'm going to get in Halo 3.

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Violence Against Stick Figures!

News at 11.

Or, in the local metropolitan paper, in this case the Minneapolis-St. Paul-area Pioneer Press.
Back in February I posted about John's interest in the politics of his hometown of Maplewood, Minnesota. I've worked for, with, and around John Nephew for what amounts to my entire career in gaming, going all the way back to our days at Lion Rampant and the founding of Atlas Games. When James Wallis was shopping around his Once Upon a Time game and looking for a publisher who would both "get it" and treat him fairly, I took him by the hand and said, "There's someone you have to meet." The news article lists Once Upon a Time as Atlas Games' best seller almost fifteen years later, so I guess that worked out okay.

John is running for city council in Maplewood and someone has decided that the "truth" about John must come out (you game-playing readers surely see where this is going): he publishes "violent" games like Let's Kill (a card game for adults 18 and over where stick figures are killing each other with outlandish "weapons" like sporks and weed whackers) and "corrupt" games like Corruption.

Violence against stick figures?! Oh, what about the children? Who will think of the children?!

John's political opponents managed to fire up a Maplewood resident and touchy-feely school teacher ("author of 'The Kindness Curriculum'") who, predictably was "absolutely appalled" and worries "about the effect this game will have on people's minds" because it's "pure violence" and "horrific" and "absolutely creepy" and "offensive". The Pioneer Press article notes a flier blasting Nephew for marketing violent and dark games and purporting to be from Maplewood Voters Coalition was distributed to some homes. The group has denied responsibility and requested a police investigation. Police confirm a probe is under way. John was actually endorsed by the Maplewood Voters Coalition back in August.

I enjoy the image of John striking fear in his opposition through his well-reasoned and factual campaign to the point that they resort to tactics like this. Naked political distraction.

I spent 20 formative years in Minnesota and watching this Maplewood City Council fight play out is a little slice of home for me. Maplewood is finding out what John's colleagues in the game industry have known for quite some time: John's one sharp cookie and if you want to take him on you'd better be sharper and better prepared, which is easier said than done. I have every confidence he's going to win this election despite these shenanigans.

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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.



Viva Pinata

Kate helped me play this ("Look out! Bat!" and "Press X, go to your journal, QUICK QUICK! What does the Doenut need to stay?") for several hours last night. Chris was at Rick's, where I hear they tried out some BattleLore. Kate and I built a garden, attracted animals, romanced the hell out of a tribe of worms, and whacked snails and bats over the head with shovels. What's not to like?

I know that you can do a bunch of things with Xbox Live but I have to say that's the sort of thing that puts me off. Gamer "ratings"? I don't need to know that I didn't optimize my win, or that I took 17 days to get my garden to level 12 when some Korean teenager did it in half the time. Oh, is my score at Bejeweled 2 not within a million points of the hardcore Xbox Live gamers? Whatever.

But the game itself? So far it's good fun. I much prefer these kinds of games (or another game like the original KOTOR) to the shooters or even games like Prince of Persia where I always, always hit a wall I can't jump up or some trick I can't do because I can't time the button mashing just exactly right. I always quit those games eventually because I can't get past the thing, can't trigger the next event, whatever. So far, very little of that in Viva Pinata, especially if I'm willing to let a few of my surplus worms get eaten on occasion.

Maybe I will find a way to make a few extra hours this weekend for Xbox 360 playing after all...

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WedCon is ON!

Ever since my barely-post-September-11 wedding, I've been talking about having a West Coast Reception. We've lovingly dubbed this reception WedCon, part wedding reception, part gaming convention.

It's taken us two years to get things properly organized, but I'm pleased to say that as of now, WedCon I is on the schedule. If people come and have fun, there could certainly be WedCon II or WedCon III in the future.

I put the deposit on the New Holly gathering hall today. Finally, I'll get to cater my own reception. I'm beside myself. What fun.

Chris is pleased, I'm sure, because we'll have a captive audience for games for at least the 5 hours that we have the hall. We may decide to have the party go on at our house into the following day, haven't decided the details yet. It's nice to have something fun and personal to look forward to, since so much of my attention is sucked up by the upcoming convention season and concerns for the business.

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We actually managed to do a little gaming tonight! Hooray! Rick showed up after several weeks of working two jobs. He's a fun guy to have in the group, but a real boy scout when it comes to things like turning around to go back to do additional work 5 minutes after he left because some other guy had to leave for a trip to the emergency room from eating funky tofu or something. Kathryn also joined us after skipping out for Tupperware parties and baby showers recently. It was so much fun to have everyone around we didn't manage to get anything accomplished in the adventure for several hours because we were so busy chatting and cutting up. I just love our game group, and not just for the gaming!

Tomorrow Chris, Evan and I are meeting with a certain company about a certain potential license. Could be very cool! Fingers crossed that it goes well.

Sunday Chris, Kate, Jess, Kathryn and I are going to a Mariners game. It's some sort of kids' day where they're handing out novelty t-shirts to the kids who come to the game, so Kate will be tickled. Am looking forward to attending the game. I can hardly believe Chris agreed to come along, but am very grateful he did. He leaves town for a week starting Wednesday morning, so it will be fun to hang out before he leaves.

Monday Stan! is coming by the house for a little while after lunch. Aside from game night we don't get too many people dropping by the house, so this should be a treat. Stan! was telling me about a very cool-sounding bookstore that he recently discovered with another friend of ours, and it made me very much want to visit it. However, I'm trying to be good and not bring any more books into the house for a while, as I've been on quite the book-buying kick lately. Lots of books for me to read (or start but never finish) and even more books for Kate in recent weeks. I always over-buy books for trips I'm taking, out of fear of being bookless while I travel. I'm reading Ginger Pye aloud to Kate at nights before bed, and it's a very sweet, entertaining, old-fashioned (in the best sense) story that we're both enjoying very much.




JD reports that ComicsOne will be publishing a series of graphic novels based on the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon novel. Sweet! Sounds like it's definitely a good time for Chris to be working on the revamp of DragonFist. Stupid stupid Wizards of the Coast squandered the potential of Chris's game the first time around (just one of the hundred reasons I'll never forgive certain key people), and I can't wait until we're able to give his game the full treatment it has so long deserved.

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In the context of games and gaming, my friend Robin Laws pointed several of us to this article.

I'm reminded of the American Revolution and the Battle of Bunker Hill. The better trained, better armed, superior forces of the British lined up to fight against the colonists, only to find that the rules had changed. The would-be Americans didn't shirk from using "partisans" and "irregulars" nor did they hesitate to use guerrilla warfare. "All out war for all out victory" was the new doctrine. The British eventually won Bunker Hill, but they lost the war.

They had won the battle, but at a terrible cost: out of 2,200 troops, 268 British soldiers and officers had been killed; another 828 were wounded. The Americans also suffered heavy casualties with 115 killed and 305 wounded. The British army’s military victory at the battle of Bunker Hill was a moral victory for the colonists, however. Colonists throughout America realized that the conflict was no longer just a rebellion of Bostonians and other Massachusetts colonists against British occupation. They had proved to themselves that, united, they had the ability and the character to confront the superior force of the British army. The cost of British victory was so great that serious doubts were raised about English leadership; many now understood that war with the colonies would be hard, long, and expensive to both sides.

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Weekend Part Deux

I had planned to do some gardening yesterday, as spring is definitely sproinging up in Seattle. Yesterday ended up having several beautiful sun-breaks (interspersed with rolling grey clouds and sprinkles, of course) and the temperature got to be a glorious 70 degrees. However, I wasn't even yet out of bed before that plan changed!

Instead of gardening, I accompanied Chris on a jaunt to Ray and Christine's place, where the Germans and Russians were scheduled to fight to the last chit in true Advanced Squad Leader glory. Chris has been searching for someone to play ASL with him for years, so when Ray relocated to Seattle, it was a match made in heaven. Upon hearing that Chris and Ray had arranged a play date, Christine passed a message through Ray to Chris to me that we should get together and do "girly things" while the boys played. So long, potting soil, hello pedicures!

Christine and I indulged in some Passion Tea, browsed the garden store, and stopped at Pasta & Co to pick up fixings for dinner. Off to the local QFC for wine and sodas, and we were set. Ray whipped up some homemade pasta when we got back, Chris shook up a few martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives and we noshed and caught up on gossip. We hadn't seen Christine since some time in January, though Ray's dropped by the house a couple of times since then. Plenty to catch up on. We hung around for dinner, downed a couple of bottles of wine, and eventually dissolved into talk of games and politics. The four of us are of a similar mindset: disenfranchised liberals who look with no small amount of horror and disgust at how international crises are playing out. It was refreshing to talk to someone on "my side" of the issue who has an informed, logical opinion. I've about had it with the gloating knee-jerk conservatives who assume that I oppose the war only because I hate George W. Bush to his core and that I must be some sort of peacenik nutjob completely divorced from reality. Ug. I can feel my ire rising just thinking about it. It was good to vent and commiserate with people I like and respect, and especially nice to do so without stumbling across any unfortunate revelations about their political beliefs.

Anyway, we called it a night, and I properly paced myself so that I didn't collapse in a heap and unintentionally spend the night, as I've so often done after similar nights at Ray's (especially if, after a late dinner and several drinks we throw in a DVD in the dark, basement home theater: that's just asking for me to pass out for the night on the couch. I'm so old and weak.).

This morning I slept in decadently late, rousing myself just in time to shower and change and dash off to Etta's Seafood where Chris and I were meeting my friend Tim. I've known Tim since he and his college buddies were playtesters and game demoers for Ars Magica, back in the day. They were always referred to, fondly, as "The Michigan Guys" and I've lost touch completely with most of them. Tim, however, was working in the computer biz in the Bay Area and regularly played games with other friends of mine, also guys from the game industry. When he found out he'd be relocating to Seattle, courtesy of Uncle Bill, my friends said, "Well, you've got to look up Nicole," and so we met up again.

Had a fantastic brunch at Etta's and talked about the various ways in which our interests have caused us to travel similar paths (trips to London, visits to Skywalker Ranch, contacts with people in various industries who used to be gamers, what have you). And wouldn't you know, while we were finishing brunch, who should stroll past the window toward Pike Place Market but Ray and Christine! No doubt they were off to do some shopping for whatever typical Sunday meal they're planning to whip up tonight. I'm sure Tynes will be posting about it in his blog, since Mr. Johnny spends a goodly amount of time cooking, eating, and hanging out at Ray and Christine's as well. Heh heh.

Before parting ways with Tim, we strolled through the market ourselves and bought some sausages at Ulis and some fresh flowers, too colorful and spring-y to pass up! Tim is going to be living in corporate housing hell for the next 5 months or so, while his house is being built. The good news for us is that when he finally gets settled in, he's going to be living down in Renton, which we're much more likely to visit than any of the places we need to cross a bridge to get to. I hope to introduce Tim to the rest of "the gang" and maybe integrate him into some gaming, I think he'd fit in nicely with the rest of our very nice friends. Tim's specifically building his house to include a "gaming loft" where he plans to have a pool table and game area. Nice to have another old gamer friend in the area!

Chris is putting together an army for a 40K game with Jess this afternoon, and I'll be driving up to Burlington to pick Kate up from her weekend with her dad. It's been a fun, action-packed weekend. Now I just have to buckle down and get everything in order before Kate and I leave for Arizona for spring break. We fly out on Thursday night! Time is just flying by.

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Kate stayed home today because she woke up with a fever. When I called the school, I did so with hopes that she'd be going to school tomorrow, but they've got a "24-hour rule" that kids can't return to school until they've passed 24-hours with no fever. She was still feverish when I put her to bed, so she won't be going to school tomorrow either, even if she wakes up "better." The woman who answered the phone when I called Kate in sick dashed my hopes further when she told me that "it's going around" and they've had kids out of school with fever for six days or more.

Because we work at home, it's very difficult to have Kate home for days on end. She's an energetic kid, even when she's home sick and she needs attention. I'd drop everything for her in a minute if she was seriously ill, but it's harder when she's just bored and restless and when the big trade show of the year is looming in less than a week.

I'm especially disappointed that she's missing school this week, because she's going to miss school all next week as well. The aforementioned trade show is during the week, in Las Vegas, and it's neither possible to miss it nor practical to bring her along. I'd already arranged to bring her to my mother's in Oregon for the duration of the show. Looks like I'm going to have to have her doing some home study so she won't fall behind her class.

We played a game of Mag*Blast tonight. Kate has developed into a good little game player already. I wish I had the stamina to play more often. She still needs a little help understanding some of the non-attack cards in the game, but she delights in making the sound effects (and is sporting enough to laugh with us when she was caught not making the required sound effect, much more mature than I was at her age) and successfully added up the total point value of her cards into the 20s. Her teacher has commented on her good math skills, and the results from her COGAT testing were in the high 90s. Now I'm left to wonder if it's the gamer environment that's helped shape her, or if she was just born with good math genes. (Which must have come from her dad, since I'm not known for my math prowess!)

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Bed Night In

As it turned out, Kate and I were both feeling a little fatigued and ready to just hang out at home. Instead of girls night out, we tucked into the king size bed (Kate brought every pillow in the house and half a dozen dolls to join us) and watched re-runs of Gargoyles and ate microwave popcorn. Then I read Kate the last chapter of The Miserable Mill and the began The Austere Academy. After four books in the series, Kate is now able to accurately translate what baby Sunny shrieks about 90% of the time and is greatly pleased with herself whenever she blurts out "That's because it's Count Olaf in disguise!" only to have me read the next line, "That's because it's Count Olaf in disguise!". There are adult references in the books that definitely go over her head, but I would rather read a thousand Lemony Snicket books than the pap she brings home from the school library.

Tonight was supposed to be game night, but three of our players have begged off (one for a possible case of kidney stones!) so it looks like gaming is off for this week. At this rate, we're never going to get through the Freeport adventure Chris is running us through. It is supposed to be a playtest game, so we're all trying to behave ourselves and not simply slaughter each evil baddie who crosses our righteous path. [begin game geek rant] We have such a non-standard group, though, I don't know how useful this playtest is going to be. One of my gripes with 3rd Edition D&D is that the designers have assumed that each group is going to be "optimized" and have a standard array of character classes/spells/whatnot. Which means when our non-standard array of characters traipse through the Heart of Nightfang Spire without a cleric, it's an awful lot less fun that it was meant to be. (Did I mention I hate undead?) Currently, we've got a group made up of a halfling rogue/fighter, a witch, a pirate, and a puny sorcerer, which is fun for us but doesn't give much insight into how the average (presumably "optimized") party is going to handle the same adventure. [end game geek rant]

Tomorrow, I leave for a weekend in San Diego. I'm attending a get together with five or six friends of mine who are also mothers of seven-year-olds. The chicks from Phoenix are driving to San Diego, where two of the moms live, and one is coming down from San Francisco. I love these women, they're all so cool and so inspirational to me as parents. It's been 8 years that I've known these women now, though I really can't believe it's been so long. We all met as part of an e-mail support group when we were pregnant (most of us with our first baby) and those of us that stuck with the group have become lasting friends. I've attended several of these get togethers over the years, once in Michigan, once in Las Vegas, several smaller get togethers with three or four moms at a time in Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston. Very few times in my life have I said that I'm looking forward to some chick-time (I'm much more of a tom boy with lots of guy friends) but in this case I can hardly wait to get on that plane. Woohoo, chick time!

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