Thursday, January 26, 2012

Random Resolutions

No more how-to books. I have more than enough for what I want to do, and I don't have the time or energy for new hobbies. New books do not equate new skills.

No more excuses. I know I'm going to look ridiculous dancing around to that fitness dvd, and I'm going to know that until I realize I can breathe better for every single day I look ridiculous. It's a fair trade.

The back yard is not going to turn into a garden on its own and all the new toys in the world won't budge it an inch closer to completion. Nor is the bird housing going to miraculously appear where it's supposed to, complete with a magically sprouting bow, unless I put some (okay, a lot of) sweat equity in. And the front yard is going to look gawdsawful until me, myself, and I get off of our collective rumps and get out there.

Time to get back into formal schooling. We all feel better (despite the moaning and groaning) when we're doing something every day. It feels less random and more like the goal we've got in mind is achievable.

I promise to buy myself a new bit of clothing every time I lose ten pounds. T-shirts and jeans don't count.

I promise to buy myself a gardening toy each time I achieve a major gardening goal. It doesn't have to be a big toy, but it has to be a significant goal.

I promise that I am going to write something, anything, every day until I get enough steam to write the books I've been promising myself for 30 years.

I promise that I'm going to start all of this after park day, and after I get done DM'ing the tavern brawl I promised the Banshees. So say it will be about --

Right. Now.

No More Excuses.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Story I'm Sticking To

I'm going to say that it's all MB's fault, or I would if I weren't reminded of the fact that the 90% being off in his own fantasy land comes from my side of the family, and the 10% laser-intensity focus comes from his dad. MB has developed a rather interesting habit, one that I think is going to do very well for him if I don't do something rash out of sheer exasperation. He is very persistent when he wants something. And I don't mean this in the I'm gonna nag Mom until she gives in or sells me for organ donation sort of way. I mean this in the I'm going to actually do my chores and then remind her every minute of every morning, noon, and night that I'm realllllly interested in doing something and she's my only teacher. 

It takes way more time to describe it than it does to be effective. Because I really can't say no to a kid that really wants to learn something. Like knit socks. Or write for long stretches of time. Or, may all the universe hear and have pity, go on a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

Now, D&D has been around the periphery of the family for a fairly long time. A good friend who has been adventuring since about 30 seconds after Gary Gygax invented the game has offered to lend me books, lent me a cd, and sent me some pretty nifty links that I managed to multiply. After an initial wave of interest, the Banshees went back to their usual pastimes of ignoring chores, baiting each other unmercifully, and attempting to will the idea of formal schooling out of existence. And that's how events stood until about four days ago. I swear on my own life I don't really know how the conversation got started, but I know how it ended: With three Banshees deciding that D&D sounded like a wonderful idea and couldn't we all get started, like, yesterday?

How, exactly, did I let myself get backed into Dungeon Mastering? The last time I tried it I was absolutely lousy. Of course, the last time I tried it I was also an uptight 20-year-old who was trying to run the least imaginative, most buttoned-down campaign in the history of the game. It was a very predictable disaster. Worse, I was never much of a gamer even before that, preferring to invent my worlds wholesale on paper (and then with pixels) rather than have to deal with dice and other people. But I'm the grown up and I'm the only one who has even the faintest inkling of what has to get done, so here I am, doing it.

First, I put to the vote the idea of taking a week or two to research versus just starting as soon as we can and learning as we go along. Unanimous vote for adventuring on the fly. Fair enough. I poked around the links both borrowed and researched and came up with a working plan. Oooh, monsters! Wow, there's the rules list! And I cannot tell you how giddy I was when I found a first-level module; I'm all for inventing my own but I'd like to offer the Banshees an opportunity to have the same characters at the end of the campaign as they did at the beginning. Somebody else's writing will be better for that, for now. I did look at buying the starting triumvirate, the DM guide, the Player's Handbook, and the Monster Manual (version 3.5, nobody I've talked to likes 4 at all), but the $100 that's going to cost has to go towards actually feeding real, live Banshees. We're just going to have to cobble as we go.

Second, I told the Banshees that because I have no idea of what I'm doing, they were just going to have to put up with moments of suddenly glowing rock formations or mysteriously illuminated trees, or just some shaft of light pouring out of the heavens and a voice announcing that This Is How It Will Be From Now On, which is the DM's way of saying that she finally located the relevant rule governing this particular convention. Banshees are so far pretty cool with that whole idea.

And lastly, at least for now, everything is on hold until I can get my hands on some polyhedral dice. I can't do anything about pit traps or collapsing barrel vaults or tiny monstrous spiders (sorry, the concept of a jumbo shrimp arachnid has been making me break out into spontaneous giggles all day) until I've got the polyhedrals and a whole lot more research under my belt. I know what the d6 do, and I'm pretty sure of the d20 and the d10, but for the Life of Brian I cannot remember what a d4 or d12 are for. I swear I've given more thought to this than most of the research papers I've had to write over the years.

As long as I'm researching or otherwise paving the way, life is peaceful. Ish. But the moment it looks like I'm flagging, MB appears at my right elbow and lets me know with that quiet and polite and inexorable persistence, that this is really very important to him. So I show him what I've been doing, perhaps teach him the difference between a Rogue and a Raven, and send him on his way with only the faintest twinge of guilt over preparing to send my mildly math-phobic children into a pretty math-intensive game.

They only think they invented sneaky.

Friday, January 13, 2012

BTW, addendum

Mentioned gaming to the Banshees. They're all in favor. And while it may not seem so on the surface, it's all Jeff's fault. Mainly because he provided me beaucoup resources last year, so I'm only half as lost as I normally am.

Now all I need are dice, paper, a couple of books, and a post-archaeological dig kitchen table.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Okay, short one here. I want to mention a couple of things.

One: Pandora + Dropkick Murphys =

Two: Dione, this is all your fault.

Okay, wasn't expecting that

In the middle of deciding what to clear and clean and get rid of first, chance cast my eyes at my ancient mariner of a computer, a Dell that's just a year younger than my 11-year-old. It has been a trooper, slogging along year after year with only one major meltdown (Mistake Edition crossed with a very bad vintage of Norton) but after Windows 2000 was installed instead this computer has been solid as a small mountain. And that's even after I decided to dual-boot the system to Linux/Windows 2K (Linux dominant) after deciding that I would never put Vista on any system in my system for any reason in the known and any possible unknown variants of the universe. No Vista + can't afford Apple = Linux variant Ubuntu. Love Ubuntu. Love it. I rate just above rocks when it comes to computer geekdom and Ubuntu has been very forgiving of that.

Time wears on us all, however, and the Dell is showing its age along with some predictable wear and tear. I'm not sure exactly why the computer screen is in perpetual, just-barely-noticeable waver mode. I'm not entirely certain the power supply is going to last too much longer. It's still stable enough that I can get it to turn on and I can probably get most of the data and I've known that I needed to do that for the better part of a year now, but it has been spending its days on a table, all hooked up and gathering dust. The night before last I finally got the impetus to poke the power button and start assigning files to the usb stick or to eternity's dustbin. It's been a pretty easy task so far. After all, the absence of these files hasn't exactly been earth-shattering for the last ten or eleven months. So there I was, tap-tapping at the keys like a dyspeptic raven, thinking that if I worked at this diligently I could scrap the hard drive and dispose of the other bits and pieces in about a week, when I realized that I wasn't exactly extracting data without an audience. Banshees. I was surrounded by Banshees, drawn by the eerie glow of the monitor, utterly fascinated.

"Mom," one finally said, "Can we play with this?"

Um. Okay. Just not tonight. Tomorrow?


Believe me, these kids have memories longer than the proverbial tail of time. They have internal clocks they set to some mysterious algorhythm. Sometime around o'dark thirty the next morning MB appeared at my right elbow. "Can I play with the computer now?"

So I set up an Open Office word document and told him to have at it. And he did.

Then EB and LB woke up and after half a morning's patience (a titanic effort in itself) asked for their turns. It got to the point where I needed a crowbar to pry them off of the keyboard long enough to get chores done. They showed each other how to Save and when to use Save As. Fights broke out over whose turn it was to play with their stories. I had to resort to the old stand-by: Pull out the timer and everybody gets a 30-minute turn.

Do you know how many tufts of hair I have pulled out trying to get these children to write? They have the most fascinating stories going on in their minds, but getting them to put that down on paper has been one of those epic battles the ancient Greeks used to shake their heads over. I guarantee Ulysses would have headed home to Penelope a lot sooner if he'd been charged with getting a trio of wayward Banshees to write something, anything, down. Turns out I was using the wrong tools. All I needed was a hugely outdated computer with some free office software and about 10 years of don't touch Mom's computer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Changing my internet diet

Last night was one of those nights. One of those nights where it was downright blissful, instead of blisteringly annoying, to be up at 1:30 a.m. and just puttering around not doing a heck of a lot of anything. One of those nights where I have one of those multi-threaded thought patterns running in the background of my brain, sometimes running parallel, sometimes intersecting, sometimes flattening out into a broad ribbon of perfectly coalesced concepts.

Part of it was just reveling in the silence. I'm a solitary person by nature, but that pretty much went by the wayside when I had as many children in as many years as I did. DBS and I can be solitary or together when it's just the two of us, but there's no way of being alone anywhere in this house as long as more than one person is awake. So here I was, with hours and hours all alone, all because the Banshees fell asleep at their appointed hour without too much battle, and the worn out spouse had long since surrendered to slumber himself. There was just me, slightly  ditzy from the latest cold virus, my silence, and my thoughts.

One thread was spinning itself out of the deeply seated need to get my house in order. There's nothing figurative about that; the yard is a mess, the house is a mess, we're overcluttered and underorganized and we didn't get one trick-or-treater at Halloween because I guarantee you the yard looked entirely too well-disheveled for comfort. There's spooky, and then there is the threat of the grape vines actually swallowing somebody whole spooky. The yard needs to be in order because, well, because I always knew that someday it was going to be important to me and someday just bit me on the rear. It left an itchy bump in my psyche, something that must be exorcised, and the only way to do it is - O dear me - is to actually go out there and do it myself. To finally convince my inner being that fell swoops and grandiose gestures are all well and good, but it's going to be the monthly, weekly, daily routines that actually tame this yard so I can make of it what I wish. Personally, I want the front yard to be a lovely pasture for the geese and the ducks. The geese go after greenery with such passion - I really wish I liked my salads as much. DBS won't let me do much more than that, no tomato trellises, no raised beds of peppers, not so much as even a tiny plethora of Musque du Provence pumpkin vines. Still, the back yard is fairly sizable, I'm sure I could throw a couple of squash plants back there. The MdP has been especially fascinating to me since I bought a 20-pound specimen of it a year ago. So dusty looking on the outside, so very orange on the inside, and so very tasty as a pumpkin pie. Oh yeah. I need to get the birds properly housed (and yes, I know I've been saying that for a while now) and I need to get our Survival Garden going in style.

Another strand was plying itself together out of two different thoughts. One, the house and our desperate need to get decluttered and organized: Two, the Banshees and I need space and structure to really do well with the homeschooling. 

I fought for a long, long time to get the house organized and then, a couple of years ago, it hit me that this goal would not and could not be obtained as long as we had all of this stuff.  I've never been taught how to throw something away. I've always felt lousy about getting rid of something that was useful, or could be useful, or might be repurposed somehow. I even bargained a little -- hey, if I just gather this stuff together and put it on Freecycle or take it down to second-hand store -- that'll be all right, right? But sad truths need facing now and again; taking it to charity or giving it away is only going to work in this household after we've gotten rid of a whole lot of things that we don't use, or can't use, or can't find to use. So during the Christmas season I told the Banshees that there was no sense in ignoring the issue, some of the objects in our house were going to go into the dumpster because we just need to get out from under it in any way we can, even if it isn't very pretty and offends our odd sense of thrift. 

Yes, it's lovely that we have all of the art supplies. What good do they do anybody if I can't keep the table clear long enough for them to be used? What good is that old computer if I can't set it up where the Banshees can use it? These kids are ready to grab at any learning and absorb it through sheer osmosis; how do I get in front of that if I'm behind in everything else that matters?

And come to think of it, why haven't I finished National Novel Writer's Month (50,000 words in 30 days, I love November!) in so many years? I'll never be Stephen King but I can write any amount of wordage in a short period of time, so why haven't I?

Why haven't I written on any of my blogs in more than a year?

That is when, of course, all of those lovely little threads curled around each other and turned into a lovely pellucid pattern. 

Too much Facebook time. 

Oh, I spend far too much time on the internet by any measure. I love my political blogs and news outlets, and most of my friends and relatives know by now that all they need to do is tickle me under the nose with an interesting research problem and I'll come back to them in a few minutes/hours/days with the issue researched down to the furthest code on its DNA strand. I love research. Adore it. Did I ever mention that Connections was one of my favorite series?

But I let myself be pickled by Facebook. I'd cycle back -- are my crops done? Has anybody responded to my post? What funny poster has my brother come up with today? Who knew Sulu was so hilariously ornery? Cycle out to a political blog, come back, go figure out who's selling Shetland sheep or Shetland fleece or cobweb weight Merino 2-ply (I have a shawl that I'm planning that's going to take at least two years to knit, I need to have yarn I can get along with!), come back to see what's going on in the town square of Facebook. Obviously, I like hanging out there. Also obvious, but harder for me to see (and believe me, there are none so blind as those who just won't see) I was using this for every excuse under the sun for not getting everything that I really needed to do, done.

I have a lot of objectives that I'd really like to achieve. But I'm not going to get anywhere if I do nothing but hang out in the ether all day. The weeds don't pull themselves, they just get brown and sere and glower sullenly at me. The Banshees do teach themselves, but they need their resource center to be a little more, ah, shall we say present? Honestly, they may not be getting the public school edition of education, but I've found myself hurling sources of knowledge into the melee and ducking while they pounce on it like starving wolverines. They're avid, they're ready, and I'd better have a lot of supplies on hand if I want to survive this. (SO looking forward to teaching more advanced maths. And archaeology as it applies to cleaning of bedrooms.) And the words, the words will not write themselves. I'm not going to get better at wordsmithing if I'm not working at it. Do, or do not do. There is no try... as Yoda was so fond of saying. I have books in me. I need to let them out.

So, if you're here because you've missed me on Facebook, these are my few reasons for spending less time at the public square. I miss you too, but there are some things I need to work on, and here is where I'm likely to work on them.