Quote of the Moment

Maybe you’re just imagining that you have a good imagination.
- from ConceptArt.Org forums

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Countdown to 2012

Ah, yes, the infamous year 2012... so-called Armageddon date according to the so-called Mayan calendar. Year of the Water Dragon. Election year, leap year, etc.

Time to ramble aimlessly about the previous 12 months.

Well, let's see. 2011 was certainly a little more eventful than I'd have liked. I nearly lost my father. I nearly lost my grandfather. We nearly lost net neutrality and freedom of speech and the right to decide what's best for my own body... oh, wait, I may have spoken too soon on that. (Election year, after all...) But any year that ends with a roof over my head and clothes on my back and air still moving in and out of my lungs can't be all bad.

In a little over two hours, my 2011 Resolution list will be obsolete. Don't ask how I did on them... ball not only dropped, but rolled into the gutter, down the drain, and on to the sewage treatment facility. So the 2012 list will see some repeats.

Dang it...

To avoid staring my failures in the face, I've spent today tidying my spaces (my bedroom and my workshop, mostly) to start 2012 with a clean (or cleanish) slate, in a physical sense if not necessarily a mental one. Well, mostly clean. Turns out that it's impossible to eradicate glitter from a given area, even with a high-powered shop vac. The next projects that come out of my workshop will be a little more sparkly than I'd intended, and the trail of glitter that formed between my shop and the front door in December will likely persist until Valentine's Day, at least. I also updated my book review website, trying to stick to my once-a-month schedule. (My updates look pathetically small now, after Project Animorph's inflated numbers. I need to find me a new serial series to addict myself to...)

Tomorrow, I'll have a whole new calendar to face, and a whole new list of resolutions staring at me from the closet door above my computer monitor. In the meantime, I have two more hours to kill before midnight. I could take a last crack at a couple resolutions, or I could blow it off and goof off online.

Wonder what's on Hulu tonight...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Past


For 35 years - my entire life - we've celebrated Xmas as we've celebrated Thanksgiving, Easter, and other family gatherings: at my grandfather's house, the house where my mother and her siblings grew up. Every gathering was an opportunity to relive their childhood, recollecting which families used to live in which houses and what fates befell them over the years, while my sister and I sat on the couch and pretended we knew who the heck they were talking about. It was a house full of memories, of history.

This year was different.

For some time, Grandpa's been fading, mentally and physically.  After his close call last March, he has been unable to live alone anymore.

We had Easter at his house anyway, as it's near enough to where Grandpa was undergoing rehab that we could stop by afterwards. It was awkward, to say the least, eating in the empty house of a man who could no longer live there.

Now, Grandpa's doing a little better. He's in a group home, where he will probably live out the remainder of his days. The family is still working out what to do about his house - it's fairly clear, at this point, that Grandpa is never returning to live there again - but, in the meantime, we have to met somewhere for the holidays.

And so we found ourselves at my aunt's place.

In many ways, Grandpa's better off than he was last Xmas. He was able to stay awake, and could open presents with minimal prompting.  But it was still strange, being in my aunt's house, without the old plastic Xmas tree blinking in the corner.

Didn't stop my mother and her siblings from yet again recreating their childhood neighborhood from memory...


Anyway, another Xmas means another round of Xmas ornaments.  This year, I told myself I'd be extra-clever and start early, picking designs that couldn't possibly fight me until 2 AM on Xmas morning.

So, guess who was up at 2 AM on Xmas morning, trying to will tacky glue to dry with sheer psychic willpower...

Family Ornaments - Front and Back
Papier mache bases from the craft store, with metallic acrylic paint, glitter, glue, and sequins.

Relative Ornaments - Front and Back
Ditto.

Friends' Ornaments - Front and Back
Paperclay over a flat wooden base, glitter, and acrylic paint. (Looks like a simple design, right? I mean, it's flat. You don't get stress fractures opening up when you're just sticking Paperclay on a flat shape, right? You wouldn't think so... you really, really wouldn't think so... Long story short, I wound up scrapping my second set for another project, meaning they left my workshop so late that probably haven't reached their destination yet.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!

It wasn't easy.

It turned into a wandering, listless slog.

It needs a thorough overhaul, from the plot to the typeface, if it's ever going to see the light of day.

But, as of 16 minutes ago, I officially finished my 2011 NaNoWriMo story. 

That makes me a Winner. For the third year in a row.

Now, where's my Victory Cake?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Holiday Fog


It's almost Halloween. That means three things:

1 - October's almost over.

2 - November's almost here.

3 - I'm already too far behind on holiday projects.

Fortunately, I know (or at least have a reasonable idea) what I'm doing this year. Unfortunately, I just haven't gotten my tail out to my workshop to start the things.

Instead, I've been reading. Between books I've been reading. But only when I haven't been reading. For some reason, it's the only thing my brain's been able to settle on when it stares at my ever-shifting, always-growing list of Things I Need to Do. I can't really complain - I'm finally past 800 archived reviews on Brightdreamer Books, a goal I didn't think I'd hit until next year - but it's completely devoured everything else I meant to do with September and October. My sketchbook is stagnating, my workshop's feeling lonely, and my room still hasn't been reorganized. I've also had an uncommonly bad run of luck with the books I've picked. Yet I can't seem to stop myself from picking up more.

When I haven't been reading, I've been beating back this year's NaNoWriMo story with a proverbial stick. This one really, really wants to get written, even though I don't have a clue about many pertinent facts... like where the plot really wants to go, how it wants to get there, or what the collateral damage and death toll will be once it arrives. But that doesn't stop my mind from chewing on it to the point of distraction. I finally broke down and wrote some backstory, just to keep my brain from shaking itself to pieces waiting for November 1. (And it gave me a chance to fiddle around with my new writing software, WriteWay Pro. So far, I'm liking it enough to consider paying for the full version; as a habitual cheapskate, that says something.)

Since I'll be forced to put down books for a while anyway, I probably should mosey out to my workshop and get started on those holiday projects. The year's not getting any longer.

If only my list of Things I Need to Do could say the same...



(Photos: The first was from a foggy morning, taken from a post office parking lot before work. The second was a puddle in a grocery store parking lot. And people say I never go anywhere fun...)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Kindle-ing

This year, like every year, I celebrated a birthday. After this one, however, I found myself in possession of a shiny new Kindle.

Like most readers, I've been watching the e-reader revolution with mixed feelings. While part of me worries that the bookstore experience - wandering shelves, happening across new titles, browsing cover blurbs amid the smell of fresh paper – might be going the way of the soda fountain, another part can certainly see the advantages. Packing so many books into one small device… the ability to read thirty-odd pages free on most offerings (which would've saved me a lot of time, money, and general aggravation)… plus, more often than not lately, I've just plain had more luck finding what I want via Amazon than in the local Barnes & Noble. I was intrigued, but with my nonexistent budget I didn't expect I'd actually ever have one.

And now I did.

First things first. The package, once I managed to work it open, contained blissfully few items: a quick-start guide, a USB cable that hooked into a 2-prong adapter for charging, and the Kindle device itself: matte gray, little longer and wider than a mass-market paperback and scarcely as heavy, with a little keyboard and navigation buttons and not much else to confuse me. It was a matter of moments to start the battery charging, and the simple controls easily let me access the on-board instruction manual. The biggest problem was figuring out how to connect it via the household wifi network. We've had issues with the thing in the past, most notably the password and security key (which are not, oddly enough, the same thing; which device wants which one varies, with no sense of logic or certainty.) While a Kindle can operate without wireless internet access, it seemed like it would be happier if it could use the thing. Besides, there's the principle involved; we have wifi, and dang it, I ought to be able to use it!

Long story short, I wound up having to restart the wireless router in order to reset the key. This, incidentally, enabled the CD that came with the router to actually function as it was supposed to, something it had never done even when I bought the thing. Very strange, if fortuitous. (I wonder if this means I can finally get my printer to work on the wireless network... but that's another project for another day.)

That hurdle cleared, I was able to synch up my Kindle with my Amazon account in under half a minute. Yes, my Kindle knows my Amazon user name and password, just as it knows how to use my wifi network. Not the sort of thing your average book could figure out - even the leather-bound deluxe editions.

Now, I needed some content. Fascinating as the user manual was, I foresaw a day on the far horizon when it alone would fail to entertain me. While technically I can shop via the device iitself, I found its controls limiting when it came to browsing; I had trouble running basic searches, even with the keyboard. Well, when in doubt, head back to what you know: a good web browser and a proper computer. Booting up my desktop, I headed to the Amazon website… where I noticed that they had my Kindle device already listed when I logged in.

Spooky…

This being my first experience with the Kindle, I started looking for free books. Fortunately, Amazon has a fairly large selection of free, out-of-copyright titles available for the cheapskate thrifty reader. Now, according to the manual, any title I grabbed could be downloaded to my Kindle in 60 seconds or less. (I could also download it to my PC and drag-and-drop via the USB cable later.) I grabbed a free title at random – the classic Treasure Island, which I'd never gotten around to reading in my youth – to test that claim With a skeptical eye on my e-reader, I clicked.

I must have blinked, because suddenly there was a new addition to the main menu. Treasure Island had appeared almost before my mouse cursor cleared the "Send to my Kindle" button. As someone used to the wait for shipping, or even the wait entailed by the need to drive home from the bookstore, I had to say that this instant gratification was rather cool.

Reading on a screen instead of on a printed page proved a remarkably easy transition; I hardly noticed I was clicking a button instead of turning pages after a while. I could power it off and walk away, then start up right where I'd left off without hunting for scrap paper to serve as a bookmark. I didn't even delve into all the extra options I had – highlighting, adding notes, in-line dictionary definitions for unknown words, adjusting font sizes, and more. It even had a handy progress bar at the bottom, telling me how close I was to the end of the book. (Much more accurate than the old squinting-at-the-spine method.)

In conclusion, while I don't expect the Kindle to replace all of my book purchases, I can certainly see it making a dent in my reading piles. It should also come in handy with the library, as the local library system just launched Kindle compatibility with their e-reading options. It may be a while before I get to exploring that, though, as Amazon still has many more free titles for me to browse... plus some interesting offerings at Baen books, and other places I'm just stumbling across. I've already started the Kindle equivalent of a bookpile... a bookpile that takes up no more space than the Kindle itself.

I think this little device and I are going to get along just fine.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Deer me...


Where has the year gone?  How can it be halfway through September already?

Well, it's been a couple weeks, so I thought I'd poke the ol' blog.

I wish I could say I've made vast strides on my many projects, but I expect you'd see right through that ploy. Truth is, I've been focusing on writing and reading, weighing toward the reading end.  You can, as always, check my book review blog for more details on that front. For the quick summary, suffice it to say that I've finally broken 750 reviews at my website. I may even break 800 by the year's end. How is that possible? Recently, I started seeing reissued Animorphs books go through at the library, which spurred me to finally go through and add individual reviews of the series. This, naturally, requires me rereading them. Freed of the one-book-a-month schedule imposed by the original release, I've found I can get through two or three installments in a day, if I'm not doing anything pressing. I'm trying to space them out, though. For one thing, I'm already ahead of the re-release schedule. For another, I'm sure all zero visitors to my book review blog will get sick of them if I post too many in a row. And, of course, there's the whole "other things I should be doing instead of rereading books" thing... Still, it's not easy holding back. Even though I know how the whole thing ends (not the most uplifting finale, to say the least), they're still addictively readable.

On the family front, life seems to have settled into a rough holding pattern. Grandpa just has good days and bad days. Dropping more water weight tends to give him more good days, as does getting on top of infections early... not easy, when every little step requires jumping through a zillion little bureaucratic hoops in order to get the staff of the assisted living home to help. (For instance, we had a standing order - in writing - from the doctor to increase his water pill dosage if he gained a certain amount of weight in a day. When he gained more than that, we were told that they had no memory of this standing order, and we had to run around playing doctor tag to get another order issued... all while Grandpa was falling further and further into his fog.) He hasn't been up to any major excursions since the sand sculpture exhibition, though. With the weather taking a sharp turn toward autumn, I don't know how many more excursions we'll manage to pack in before things get too damp and dreary out.

I suppose I ought to wander off. Just thought I'd toss a quick post to keep this thing from getting too stagnant. (Oh, the deer photo was taken from my car window a couple mornings ago on the way to work. The young buck stood by rather placidly while I clicked away with my purse camera. Rather considerate, all things considered.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sands of Time


This past Sunday, the relatives and I visited the World Sand Sculpting Championship, once again hosted in a scenic area parking lot between a deserted Target and a deserted Toys R Us. It was a little smaller this year - no teams larger than pairs - but, if nothing else, it would give me an excuse to inflict more photos on the blogging community.


"Relatives" included the usual immediate family, my uncle, and Grandpa. This being a flat and relatively small venue, and something he actually seemed to enjoy last year, we thought it would be an ideal place to get Grandpa out and about for a while.



For a while, he was getting himself up to walk three times a day at the group home where he's been living. He'd been reading the paper (or at least skimming it), and commenting on it.


But, as we've learned too well this year, it's impossible to take anything for granted at his age, in his condition. They finally got the catheter out, but he still has lingering infection issues. He also keeps building up too much fluid, requiring numerous games of doctor tag before anyone will adjust his water pills to deal with it.



All of this takes a toll on his increasingly fragile stamina, not to mention his increasingly cloudy mental state. Between one day and the next, he can go from relatively alert and lively to glassy-eyed and weary. Sunday, the day of the Great Sand Sculpture Excursion, was a weary day.



For a while, Grandpa managed to walk with the use of his walker, but the effort told on him. Though we were there while the sculptors were still working, fielding questions and putting finishing touches on their incredible creations - including patiently affirming one clueless man's question as to whether the sand being wet had anything to do with how they were able to sculpt it - he hardly seemed to notice them. Just staying upright consumed most of his attention.



Before too long, it was time to switch off to the wheelchair.


The group home has an annoying habit of removing the foot rests of Grandpa's wheelchair, and storing them far away from the wheelchair itself. My uncle didn't check, before he left, to see if the rests were on or off. (Of course, this is a man who never remembers sunscreen or a hat, despite repeated scorchings...)


Without foot rests, pushing him in the chair requires some cooperation on Grandpa's part; he has to lift or "walk" his feet, or they catch on the ground or snag the front wheels.


For a while, it worked out. Freed from the effort of walking, he even seemed a little more alert, though his eyes tended to wander about, unable to stay focused on any given sculpture for long.



Before too long, though, he was letting his feet glide along, unwilling or unable to lift them. Even sitting down was proving strenuous for him. Since he couldn't be pushed, my uncle had him get back up on his walker as we headed toward the food court (or rather, three tents selling foodlike substances and cold liquids.)



Grandpa managed to get to the tables, even navigating hoses left in his path. (People don't realize how difficult it is to deal with hoses until they have a relative in need of a walker or wheelchair; that inch or so of lift to clear one's feet becomes a monumental task.) But that was about it for the day. He was asleep almost before he'd sat down. Even the temptation of chocolate milk failed to rally his stamina.


Before the final judging started, we headed off. Grandpa had to be rolled backwards; once more unable to participate in his own transportation, it was easier to roll him backwards, letting his heels skim the ground, than push the whole length of his foot on the asphault.

The final sand sculpture, on the last row, seemed oddly and eerily fitting for the day.  Its title, appropriately enough, was "The Sands of Time."



Monday, August 08, 2011

The Trek


Barely a week in, and August is already shaping up to be a busy month for family things. Last weekend (technically the last day in July), we hit the local Highland Games. Yesterday, we made the drive down to Northwest Trek, a native wildlife park whose main draw is the tram tour: a large chunk of the park is dedicated to free-range herbivores, with tram tours allowing visitors a "reverse zoo" experience wherein the beasts are free and the humans are confined. As children, we all made the pilgrimage at least once, and remembered it mostly for the long drive down, a tram tour where one might have seen a deer sleeping next to the road, and a quick lunch before being loaded onto the buses for the long drive back before school let out.

For some reason, Grandpa got it into his head that he wanted to go. From there, it infected the rest of the relations, until it became a "We Have To Do This Someday" summer plan. (Grandpa's still not quite who he used to be, and we all know he won't be around too many more summers...) Yesterday, Sunday, became "Someday" for trip-taking purposes.

Why, yes, I am about to subject you to the virtual photo tour. Why? Because the Internet's the closest thing to social interaction I have...


This guy has been greeting visitors since... well, since as far back as I can remember, possibly as far back as the park's been open. I expected it to be as close as I was likely to get to a photogenic animal; as mentioned, in years past, I've never had much luck with their tram tours providing more than the most fleeting glimpse of the resident fauna. (Admittedly, part of my skepticism stemmed from a less-than-direct route to the park; despite Mapquest directions, the other carload of relatives insisted on the "scenic" - i.e., the "I'm sure I know a faster way/Wait, what was the exit again?" backtrack-for-half-an-hour-and-ditch-the-hapless-fools-following-them - route. Not a great foot to start out any expedition on...)


Once we'd paid for our admission (which came with a tram-ride token - about 40 minutes out), we herded ourselves inside for a visit to the restroom and a glance at the map. I scarcely remembered all the meandering trails about the central area... trails far too extensive for kids to explore when there's a school bell to hurry back to an an hour-long drive to beat it. If nothing else, I figured I'd get a good in. Grandpa was enjoying himself, at least. The weather was cooperating, if nothing else was yet...


We didn't want to get too deep into the trail system before the tram tour, so we headed down there to wait. Fortunately, we weren't the first in line... Actually, they were moving people through at a fair clip. We also got to get on first thanks to Grandpa's wheelchair. Time to settle in and see if I can't find something photogenic.


Horseshoe Lake proved nice and easy to photograph. But, then, it's much harder for a lake to hide in the grass, dart across a road, or turn its least-photogenic end toward you...


Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was dumb luck. But I saw more animals in that tram tour than I recall ever seeing in my entire history of visiting Northwest Trek. Since the trams aren't allowed to come to a full stop (slowing to a near-dead-stop-crawl), and since I suck with cameras, I can hardly report spectacular success, but nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised... and the throw-enough-stuff-at-the-wall theory proved out as I managed to fluke a few decent shots.
This guy's an endangered species of elk, with scarcely more than 2000 left between America and Canada; their old-growth forest habitat's been on humanity's hit list for far too long.


A Columbia Blacktail deer rests in a patch of grass. We saw several of these guys, but this buck was the most photogenic.


Next, we came to a herd of bighorn sheep, who also proved suspiciously cooperative.


A group of misguided tourists in a second tram, up on a ridge above the sheep-filled meadow, must have thought we were interesting enough to photograph. So I returned the favor.


A bull bison snoozes in the woods. Normally, he would be out trying to impress the ladies this time of year, but this guy looks like his freewheeling bachelor days are long behind him... like most aging males, he prefers to be left alone for a nice snooze.


The tram tour wound over hill and dale, through meadow and woodland. This view just reminded me of so many places I've been in the Cascades - the tall, sun-dappled treetrunks and the shady trails - that I thought I'd record it for posterity.


We came upon a wetland with a pair of moose. The bull was resting right next to the road... on the opposite side of the tram. The cow, on the other hand, was more conveniently located.
We also learned that moose eat somewhere in the neighborhood of 27,000 calories' worth of plant matter daily. The tram operator tried to impress us by telling us we'd have to eat about 47 Big Macs or 20-odd Cinnabons to get that many calories. (My thought was... only 47? Dear gods, no wonder obesity is about to go pandemic...)


Another pair of bison. We later saw another herd, with calves, but they were in the woods on the opposite side of the tram.


Remember that ridge we saw the second tram on earlier? We found ourselves up there, later in the tour. Couldn't see much in the way of animals, save tiny brown dots far below, but the view was something else...


Toward the end of the tour, a mountain goat turned up by the roadside. He didn't think much of tourists and their cameras, though...


Coming back around Horseshoe Lake, we spotted the White Widow: a trumpeter swan whose mate had passed away. Several of their offspring had evidently been shipped back east, to Ohio or thereabouts, to help rebuild the swan population there. (There is still a second breeding pair of swans on the grounds, but they seem strangely drawn to a nesting site near the raccoon den... 'coons make lousy egg-sitters, evidently.)


On the way back to the tram station, a herd of caribou had set up camp on the roadway, as is evidently their habit; we had to crawl behind a nonchalantly-trotting beast all the way up to the station. (The tram operator said she sometimes felt like Santa, following reindeer up the hill...)

And thus ended the tram tour.

Time's gotten away from me, so that'll be it for now. Later today, I'll post the pics of the rest of my trip.

'Till then...

LATER...

Okay, got Grandpa's lawn mowed, picked up groceries, and otherwise fulfilled my real life obligations for the day.

Back to the photo dump...


Once the tram ride was through, we split up and wandered through the extensive trail network, where more animals were on display. This guy reminded us of the bird feeder bandit, currently held at bay by an electric fence.


A grizzly. If one of these guys had been after our feeder, we would've let him have it. And anything else in the yard he wanted.


Wolves, a former native, are slowly making a comeback in the wild in this state (ranchers and poachers notwithstanding.) This one displayed an uncanny sense of cameras, mocking us from the rear of the exhibit.


Of the three cats at Northwest Trek, the cougars proved the most active. In their display, one can view a red dot on a tall tree; it marks the highest recorded downward jump of a cougar... 60 feet. (They can jump about 20 vertical feet from a standstill, too.) The kids next to us were engaged in a lively debate about whether a knight or a cougar would win in a fight. They seemed to be of the opinion that the sword would tip the balance. I wouldn't bet on that one...


A fisher, of the weasel family. Another Northwest native that's been having a rough time with bipedal invasive species.


The otters were, in otter fashion, moving faster than the camera could reliably tracked. This is the closest to a presentable image I got of their antics.


It probably looks stuffed, but this is in fact a live beaver (on a leash), part of a trailside talk by the staff. Like most rodents, beavers grow continuously throughout their lives. This on was 20-30 pounds, but records exist of 70-odd pound behemoths... in the days before large-scale trapping.


The park had four birds on display: the snowy owl, barn owls, a turkey vulture, and a pair of golden eagles. Two of the four species proved too elusive for a good shot. Three, really, if you count this cruddy image (the best I managed under the circumstances.)


One of the golden eagles, patiently posing for photographs in its habitat.

Well, that's it for the photo dump. It was a beautiful day, one that already has relatives talking about a return trip (possibly for one of their limited-seating photography packages.)