Useful Souvenirs

This past week has been a hectic bout of vacation. I’ve missed three days of blogging. Something I’ll have to plan on for my next trip. That’s not what I want to discuss today, as I recover from my trip. Rather, I’d like to discuss something I did that I don’t normally do. I bought a souvenir. Two of them, actually. A pair of turtles with wobbly extremities. A small one, given the name Wiggler by my girlfriend for fairly obvious reasons, and a big one, named Biggler by myself to create a sense of uniformity. This is unusual because I don’t tend to buy “useless” souvenirs.

I buy souvenirs because they’re reminders of good times and good feelings. Something we need to be reminded of every once in a while. I’m not huge on collecting things that only have one function. So typically these things have multiple uses to them. Usually, I buy a t-shirt. In fact, at the same gift shop I bought a shirt as well. I’m also going through a project to create a quilted blanket from the scattered remnants of old souvenir t-shirts that no longer fit. I’m turning older, no longer useful souvenirs back into  a useful and happy item.

My favorite useful souvenir has to be a pair of nail clippers from France. When I lived in France my parents and I visited the town of Mont Saint-Michel. I loved it. It’s a castle town on a small island in Normandy France. It was a magical adventure for me. Stores dedicated to medieval armaments lined the streets. I was allowed to purchase no weapons or armor. The tiny rented Clio probably wouldn’t have been able to hold any of that merchandise. There was a fantastic monastery that rested at the very top of the town. It overlooked everything. Throughout the whole day, I never once found a single souvenir that I really wanted. I left what was essentially a tourist trap, but was also one of my favorite places in France, empty handed. A month later we were walking through the streets of Paris when we turned down a side street. The street was empty except for a single vendor selling France related memorabilia. The woman looked like something straight out of a fairy tale and the goods she sold were just as magical. Flags, spoons, and what I settled upon, a pair of nail clippers, made in Korea, emblazoned with a French flag and gold line drawing of Mont Saint-Michel, and purchased in Paris. All these years later, they are still sharp, still useful.

Now, I’m going to go wiggle Biggler and magnify Wiggler.

Better Vacation Days

Some days, nothing goes right. It’s easy to forget that old cliche that tomorrow is another day. Because it was, tomorrow was another day two days ago and continues being one today. And, boy, was it a good day. Everything seemed to go right. Even the sunburn I accrued feels better than a normal sunburn. 

The day was spent in the water with minimal swimming. The current carried me here and there. I let go of most control and the water swept away most of my stress. Responsibility was left by the shoreside, and I’m better off for it. It was a reminder that I love to swim. It was a reminder that I didn’t think I needed until I had it. Pool season isn’t over yet. We should all get some water time in before it’s too late. 

It’s important to remember that bad days can happen, even on vacation. As I move into the last day of vacation, I’m reminded that I have to take each day by itself. No day will be the same as the last. Tragedy and victory will come and go, replaced by a long line of successors. Some days we need to just relax and take the days as they come. 

Now I’m off to convince my mother that I’m hiding a pair of turtles in my room. 

Vacation Days

I used to think that vacation days were days that you spent relaxing. Now, I realize that leisure is something you pack into every waking minute until you’re begging for mercy. The point of vacation, it has become apparent, is to make you so miserable and stressed out that you feel relaxed at work. Yesterday was not a good vacation day. 

Yesterday was a shifting moving Target of sand. Every time I thought I’d pulled my aim right on the target, it was elsewhere. Our plans for the day got rained out, then a backup plan was formed in a way that made it seem as though there was a light at the end of the tunnel. That light was created by the sheer body heat created by the gigantic crowd at the end. After wading through that area, I thought a pool trip might be in order. It was late, but the hotel pool was well occupied. I swam in spite of everyone else present. 

As I went back to the room exhausted a final thought occurred to me. I hadn’t written a word that day. It was quite upsetting. So, today, as I get driven to the days activities, I write a post about the stresses of vacation. The day is coming on fast and I hope I can keep up with its rigors. 

Only missed two days so far, not good, but not as bad as I thought it would be. 

Waking Up Smiling

In the morning, waking up is crucial to setting the mood for the day. Most days, I wake up with a sense of time pressing down on me with 400 metric tons of pressure. Admittedly, it could be worse. It could be 401 metric tons of pressure. The only thing to do in those cases is get moving. Not a fun singalong, bluebirds and field mice dressing you, Disney princess kind of morning. But every once in a while that magical kind of morning happens. 

On these rare occasions I wake up . My eyes flutter slowly open, emphasizing my gorgeous long eyelashes. I rise to sit ramrod straight in bed. My arms raising and spreading as I yawn away the sleep. I swing my feet over the side of my bed into a pair of slippers brought to me by friendly woodland critters. I float down the hallway to expel my bowels. When I reach out for toilet paper, only to discover there is none, a couple of hummingbirds flutter in carrying a new roll. Their wings tickle my cheeks as they clean me. In the kitchen, I come across a friendly hen scrambling her own eggs with cheese. Nearby, one of my dogs carves the bacon off of a happy dancing pig. As I sit down, they all break into a fun tune and my teapot and mug dance over to me. After breakfast, I’m bathed in a waterfall by everyone who’s helped me up until this point. 

On normal days, I wake up to a shrill alarm. I jump out of bed and rush to the bathroom. There’s no toilet paper so I. Jump in the shower as a disgusting, improvised bidet. I rush through cleaning my body. I brush my teeth, then curse because I haven’t eaten. I run into the kitchen and realize I don’t have time to make tea. All I have to drink is orange juice.  I desperately start scrambling some eggs and don’t realize some egg shell has fallen in. The pig is grumpily being cut up. Not even dancing. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is treat yourself every once in a while. 

When Families Collide

Yesterday marked the first meeting between my family and my girlfriend’s family. I was nervous, anxious, a little tired from having been nervous and anxious the night before. We met at a restaurant. First, my girlfriend’s family was early and then my family was late. Things seemed bleak. Then everyone was there and it was fine. Our families started talking, people started laughing. My bleak outlook on the night vanished. Later, I got us lost, but we got gelato so it was all good.

It’s always funny how I worry about people not getting along. It started as a child, I think. I was always making friends. Then I’d try to introduce all these friends to each other and they’d generally not get along. It was always a strange sensation. I never really understood why people who I liked, often for similar reasons, rejected each other. It made me paranoid so I stopped inviting friends to hang out for a long time. I’d keep my friends separate. A foolish and lonely thing to do, but it made sense to a child.

The thing is, as a child, friends were made and lost more easily. As adults we seek out those that really mean a lot to us. The relationships have more experience backing them and the pools from which we can pull those friendships are more shallow even as they get broader. But the really strange dichotomy of the situation is that as kids we tried to get away from our parents, but now I love meeting my friends parents. They raised them, they formed who they’ve become up to this point. They should be interesting people in their own right. Yet somehow I don’t always have the same faith in my own family being interesting as much as I do others. Last night showed me that I should have more faith in the folks who raised me. They may be old hat to me, but they’re vibrant and interesting people to everyone else.

Now, I’ve got to get ready for a day of visiting my girlfriends extended family before a bunch of board games.

Adventure in a Can

Yesterday, I briefly touched on a new experience with what I refer to as canned adventures. That is adventures written by someone else, typically with the idea of selling it to people who buy the rule sets. The thing is, I don’t think they’re really worth the cost of buying a new one for every session you want to play. Aside from severely limiting yourself, you’re also letting someone else determine your parties abilities for you. After a few sessions, no one should be able to tell you better what your adventuring party is capable of than you. It did share some other secrets.

The first thing I realized I wasn’t doing was creating scenes. The game had scenes prepared to be used as I needed them. In the canned adventure, I used about three of these prepared scenes. The others would have made the solution to the adventure more obvious if they had needed it. My players were on point that day and understood every part of the puzzle within minutes.

This made me realize I had a tendency not to explain the situational problems as well as I, perhaps, should in all of my adventures. The problem being I’d forget about certain weaknesses or key elements in the heat of the moment. Having everything written for the canned adventure made things much simpler. If I forgot a point of interest, or a detail, I had good source material to fall back on. This isn’t exactly a new idea to me, but it help me differentiate the points really worth talking about.

One thing I did realize that I did better was provide a set of rules for all the NPC’s in my campaign. The canned adventure had four characters written up, which was great, but when I needed to make a test of strength between a player and an evil, possessed cat, I had no rules to fall back on. Fortunately, my bullshit skill is well developed and I pulled something out of my ass that only vaguely smelled of fecal matter. When I create my own adventures, I always find a set of skills and stats for all the creatures inhabiting it, even if I have to make them up myself.

I’ve thought about writing canned adventures, but canning seems like a lot of pressure.

Picking A System

I’m a huge fan of tabletop RPG’s, as many readers have probably realized. I run a weekly game using the Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition rule set with a home brew campaign and world. It’s a great creative outlet with strict time constraints. Sometimes our group isn’t going to be as full as it needs to be for the next section of the campaign. Sometimes I just don’t feel like playing a players character while their absent. In extremely rare cases, I haven’t finished preparing the next leg of the adventure to my satisfaction. When this happens I pull down one of my other systems and run a one off campaign.

Most recently, I used the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space rule set and used a canned adventure. It was an interesting experience, as I tend to make up my own adventures, even one offs. Generally, there’s only one thing I need to ask myself when I get ready to play a new campaign, and that’s what system do I use? If I’m completely honest, I tend to fall back on GURPS fourth edition, because I know I can make whatever I need to make in that system. But that can be time consuming and requires making sheets for every little character that populates my RPG. It’s much easier to go with something I can just grab all the villains out of a manual, like D&D or The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game. But then sometimes I want to use elements from the World of Darkness system. It’s rare, but it does happen. I’m not greatly familiar with many aspects so that’s time and effort I have to put in to make the game work and run smoothly.

The three key points to think of when making a campaign are how familiar you are with the system you’re using. Not very familiar? Make a lot of time to just read through the books, especially the example portions. What is your campaign going to be about? If you’re dealing with a more combat heavy game, things like World of Darkness and Dungeons & Dragons are going to be more your speed than the more story driven Fudge Dice system from The Dresden Files RPG or Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. And finally, is there a specific existing universe you want to play in? Doctor Who and The Dresden Files are just two of a plethora of licensed properties made into RPG’s. Others include James Bond 007 (RPG), Firefly RPG, and even Supernatural RPG. 

Now, I’ve got to cobble a game together where the characters all play as pets that are trying to keep their owner from being kidnapped.

I Dream of Sleep

If there were ever a way to get through life without doing anything I would probably take it. Mornings like today, where I wound up awake until the wee hours of the morning make me regret getting out of bed. My head is full of a coughing haziness that refuses to move out, and keeps complaining that the basement is a laundry room, because they want to turn it into this super cool bachelor pad just like they saw someone do on Reddit. My mouth feels like the cover of a stereotypical 90’s Christian Rock album. I don’t know if I’ve been sleeping with my mouth open, or drooling all the moisture into a separate dimension, but I’m parched. So parched that I kept waking up in the middle of the night unable to salivate. I got up for water twice. Both times I drank one cup at the faucet then the next cup back at bed. The one I just drank is moistening that filmy lair of dryness that coats your mouth when you get thirsty. I’ve already rubbed the top lair of my lip off.

Today, I’m tired. I want nothing more than to go back to bed. I want to fall back asleep, and do nothing, but before I do that, I need to take the time to catalog the feeling of being tired. This particular instance should be recorded. From the grouchiness, to the slight pain of keeping my eyes open: the rawness of air against tired eyeball, and sore eyelids from working too many reps the day before. The slight stiffness of my neck that begs to meet the pillow, if only for five more minutes, mom. My feet are plodding and heavy with every step I take, but when I go back to bed, I’m sure they’ll be light.

I need to remember this moment. I need to remember this time and place. I need to remember my hair tickling my forehead as my head lolls side to side. Someday, it may come in handy as a point of reference. It may come in useful in my creative writings or being a better reader.

But for nowzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Defeat is a thing with which no one likes to be faced. It is a great big L that stands dauntingly tall in front of us all when we thought we were going to get the W. Yet, we all get defeated at some point in our lives. No one goes unscathed from its searing presence. The problem is that we almost always give into defeat before it is inevitable. Whenever I turn and see that defeat is coming, I have a tendency to lie down and let it come.

This isn’t how we’re supposed to react, however. We aren’t supposed to simply freak out and stop what we’re doing. The fetal position only makes defeat come faster. Action is better at routing defeat than inaction. Defeat doesn’t have to be inevitable, nor does it have to be permanent. A friend recently told me that he doesn’t draw because of criticism that he received as a child. To him, that defeat was fatal to his artistic dreams and now he has to search out others to fulfill his visions.

When I was a child I too felt defeat. Mine was at a writing contest. I would like to say that I put in my greatest effort and completely failed, but that’s not what happened. I just felt as though that had happened. In point of fact, I placed as first runner up. I was devastated because I thought I had lost. I choked back tears as I read my short story about my dog Rags in the middle of the mall at the awards ceremony. I stopped writing after that for at least a year. It was a stupid reaction to what could barely be classified as defeat. It felt so big to me in the moment I didn’t realize how small a thing it truly was. Defeat is a matter of perspective, one we need to keep in check. If we don’t, we find ourselves facing it even when we win.

iPod’s Last Waltz

I recently heard that Apple is discontinuing their line of iPods. This has filled me with a mix of emotions. I never really cared for Apple’s iPods, mostly because of their software. I was fairly young when I got my first iPod. My older sister bought me an iPod Photo one year for a birthday. It was a brick of an MP3 player. It must have cost at least $400. It was the newest iPod on the market at the time. Cutting edge technology with a low resolution full color display. It even had games on it, like solitaire and one where you shot things out of the sky. This monster of an MP3 player had 40 gigs of storage. I loved it until it mostly died. It still will play some of the old stuff I used to listen to for a couple of minutes at a time every once in a while but I’ve since realized it’s better as a paper weight.

To be honest, I didn’t get another iPod until 2009, when I received one as a gift for Christmas. It was the royal purple iPod Nano. It had 16 gb of storage. This one came from my older sister’s ex-fiance, and yes, he was an ex-fiance at the time. I never did thank him for it, so let me take a sentence to do that here. Dick, thank you for all the gifts at Christmas. they meant a lot and were enjoyed far beyond their years. Unfortunately, this iPod too stopped working. Frankly, it can’t have been a cheap gift. Not as expensive as the iPod Photo, but certainly better in every way but storage.

If I’m completely honest, I miss having a dedicated MP3 player. I miss having something to go to just for my downloaded music. I miss not having to allocate space to my phone to ensure that I don’t have to limit it’s other multitude of uses. The iPod is certainly the most famous of the MP3 players, but their discontinuation could mean a shift away from MP3 players as a whole. I’d like to treat this as a terrible thing that couldn’t be any worse, but honestly, I’d moved on without them.

I’m going to go listen to exactly 120 seconds of “Welcome to the Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance to say goodbye.