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Portland, the GR Summit, and yet more travel

I started to write about my visit to Portland but it turned out to be a little more emotionally taxing than I thought it was going to be. Took me a while to get back to it.

Being back in my mom’s house is always hard for me. I love my mom but I can’t understand her life. I don’t understand her relationship with her husband and it is only with the most strenuous effort that I can tolerate him. While my mom was in surgery, he was in the bar. While my mom was propped up with ice packs and pain pills and trying to recover, he was chain smoking 3 feet away. I drove her to and from the hospital, I filled her prescriptions, I brought her soup and ice packs and pain pills. He went out for a morning bender, staggered in so drunk he could hardly stand at noon and started bellowing. My mother actually believed she was going to get up and fix him lunch! Over my dead body, I said. He passed out for a while until his grandson called him up a couple hours later to invite him out for more drinks… so he staggered out for another “toddy”. I’m stretched taut by the stress of being around this stuff for an hour, let alone several days.

Thankfully I had a couple of breaks in the action and I they really did save my sanity. On third day of the stay, my friend Greg (who used to live just down the street while we were growing up) came by and the two of us went to and end of summer celebration hosted by another childhood friend. There were a dozen or so Canby High alums in attendance, few I’d been close to in school but all of whom were great fun now that we’re adults. I had a lovely time, shared good food and drink, and both bitched about (and then forgot about) the situation at my mom’s house.

My brother returned from a month of doing some doctor-stuff out in New York in the midst of my mom’s recovery so he came down to check in on her and the two of us went out for dinner together, meeting up with his awesome girlfriend and her brother for some sushi in Portland proper. Afterward, Chad and Megan and I hung out for a while at her place, talked about their residency applications and their time in Haiti. It was SO nice and how I’d REALLY rather spend my “family time”.

Not long after recovering from my Portland excursion, we hosted Green Ronin’s annual summit out here in Seattle again. This year I felt somewhat subdued, no doubt from the emotional hangover I feel whenever I spend time at my mom’s house and around her husband and his spawn. We stuck pretty close to home for our dining breaks: breads and pastries from Columbia City Bakery, pizza and ice cream at Flying Squirrel Pizza, brunch at Verve Wine Bar, lunch at Calamity Jane’s and Georgetown Liquor Company. Our meetings were efficient, productive, and on task. Before I knew it, the summit was over, the boys had returned home and I was prepping for the Diamond Retailer Summit in Baltimore five days later.

Normally we let Hal handle the Baltimore summit himself since he’s virtually local, being in Alexandria and all. This year I thought we’d have made a long-anticipated announcement and we’d need the extra staff but through a comedy of errors and miscommunication announcements have not been made, demos we thought were not scheduled were scheduled (and then weren’t done after all) and the “easy” trip that was supposed to involve me staying on the cheap with my business partner ended up being additionally complicated by Hal’s house being without running water (hello hotel!).

Those folks who follow me on Twitter were able to follow the travails of my return trip in real time as I shared my frustrations 140 characters at a time. 4:20am pick-up from Shuttle Express, aboard my plane at 6-something, sitting on the tarmac for some hazy time period where I was falling in and out of a doze and wishing the plane would take off already so I could recline my oh-so-”comfy” middle seat. Returning to the gate area around 8am to remove a passenger who claimed to be too ill to travel (though I saw her gathering her things and walking off the plane and she didn’t seem to be sick at all) and finally taking off. Arriving for my connection in San Francisco 40 minutes too late to make my connection and finding out that the next (and only) flight to Seattle was 9 hours later. Deciding to take the BART to the city to kill time and have lunch, sitting on the BART while a “police incident” closed the station we were trying to reach. Finally boarding the plane and getting my first class upgrade (yay!) but having to sit next to a douche bag. Luckily, a couple of free beers and a complimentary fruit and cheese plate made up for it. Finally arriving in Seattle, standing at baggage claim for an hour and confirming that my bag was not on the plane with me but had been sent to Las Vegas earlier in the day. Deciding that with the day’s luck in mind, I just wasn’t up to risking taking the last light rail/bus connection to my house and paying out for the $35 cab ride home. Woo, it’s been quite a while since I’ve had a travel day quite like that.

Now I’m home and plan to be here for a while. I can’t quite shake this feeling of utter exhaustion. I’m sleeping too much, tired within an hour or two of waking up, nodding off at my computer, falling asleep on the couch at night while trying to watch tv with Chris or Kate. No rest for the weary, however! In addition to catching up on Green Ronin work, I also have to coordinate the repairs to our heating system in the house, hopefully before the actual cold weather comes. The New Holly homeowners finally received a settlement in the lawsuit over the defective pipes used in the heating systems in our homes. We were thrilled at this news because we’ve been living with the inevitable complete system failure hanging over our heads for years while this lawsuit played out. Unfortunately, it didn’t take us long to figure out that the settlement wasn’t actually going to be enough to cover the system replacement. Or, rather, that the settlement *could* cover the system replacement, just not all the “incidental” repairs that we’d need to make. See, the pipes and the water heater and so on are covered in the repair estimates but taking out and replacing the walls to get to the pipes (which, with the hydronic heating system, run through all the walls in the house), repainting, re-flooring (if they have to tear up the floors, too) and so on. We’re going to have to come up with several thousand dollars in additional funds in order to put our house back together once they’re done and the clock is ticking. Nothing like a little extra stress to keep the heart pumping.

Three weeks out from my 40th birthday and I’m feeling about 100 years old.

Summer Recap

The last couple of months have been pretty active for me and I haven’t really written about anything overly personal in months. Figure it’s about time to mend that.

June was Pramas’s 40th birthday. I threw him a party, saw a bunch of old friends and had a really nice time. The following week I went to Portland and camped out at an RV park in my mother’s RV so Kate could attend Rock Band Camp for Girls. I videoed Kate’s performance from the side of the stage but when I pulled it off the FLIP there was no sound (though there is sound if viewed on the camera) so I’ve got to figure out what’s up with that so I can post the video of her band rockin’ out. But I haven’t yet.

In July I hosted a friend’s 13-year-old son for a week. He’s a total gamer and within minutes of his arrival he and Kate were talking Star Trek (or was it Star Wars?) and Xbox. We visited the EMP and the Sci-Fi Museum (which had a bonus Jim Henson exhibit going on), visited Starbucks (the kid likes mochas), stopped at Golden Age Collectibles, introduced him to sushi, and culminated with a visit to the Microsoft Game Studio. I tried to organize a visit to Wizards of the Coast but despite a bunch of advanced notice and call-outs to multiple people there we just weren’t able to make that happen, but my friends at Microsoft more than made up for it with the tour they gave the kids of the Game Studio. Kate then went on a week-long trip to Hawaii with her dad and Pramas and I hunkered down to get some work done before GenCon.

My brother returned from his stint doing medical work in Haiti and suggested that we try to go up to Minnesota together to visit my grandpa (who turned 92 this year) with our dad. I was able to book my GenCon flight through Minneapolis to make this happen and it was a really lovely time. The weather was good, the rest of the family golfed (or followed along in a cart) and I got lots of walking in on the golf courses and great face time with the family. It also took my mind off the fact that Ropecon 2009 was going on. Instead I rolled into GenCon feeling as relaxed and happy as I’ve been in years. Where my brother and I really did not get along as children and I moved in with my dad in 10th grade while he continued to live with my mom, we’ve grown up and grown into a much happier relationship and I’m really enjoying knowing him as an adult after being either at odds or separated from each other for so many years. Valuable stuff.

August gave way to September and PAX here in Seattle. I attended again this year and reconnected with many good friends from the game industry that I don’t get to see nearly enough of. I saw good friends who have moved away for computer jobs and pen-and-paper designers who otherwise don’t have reason to visit Seattle. My most popular friends were hard or impossible to track down or only able to speak to us in passing and I left wishing the event had been a couple of days longer so I could have seen more but for me this year was totally about the people and largely not about the content of the event. Sadly, I was also one of the hundreds of people who caught the "PAXflu" and lost more than a week to laying around the house coughing, sniffling, and napping feverishly. I got over the worst of it just in time to head down to Portland to help my mom out as she underwent and recovered from nasal surgery. Even now I still have a very slight cough that pops up and it’s been three weeks since the onset of my symptoms. Tomorrow I’ll write up that trip in more detail.

That brings us to the beginning of Fall. Kate started back to school for her eighth grade year while I was down with the flu, her last year at Orca. Pramas and I will be celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary in a couple of days, the bronze anniversary Google tells me. This weekend is the annual Green Ronin summit and the bulk of the boys will be arriving over the course of the day Thursday. The following weekend is the Diamond/Alliance open house in Baltimore which I’ll be traveling to this year and by the time I finish that we’ll be well into October and less than a month out from my 40th birthday. This is the year that FIVE of the Green Ronins turned 40 with me closing out the pack as the last of the year. It’s also a year that has me feeling like a stone skipping across a pond, spinning along with an external momentum and only briefly coming into contact with the real "surface" of my life.

More later, for now I must sleep.

Favorite PAX Moment

I tried to deplague-ify myself through diligent hand washing, applications of sanitizer, and I didn’t share my controllers or lick any banisters but I still managed to come home with some sort of PAX plague that has settled into my chest over the course of today. So, my PAX report is going to take the form of sharing my single favorite PAX moment by way of Youtube.

Kate and I were at this show (stayed through all three Coulton encores) and saw this thing go down live. Knowing what a sincerely nice guy he is, we were both absolutely thrilled to have the chance to watch this unfold. Kate stood right beside me through the whole show, clapping and singing along, and SQUEEEED with genuine 13-year-old girly delight to see her friend, Wil Wheaton, being treated to something as cool as being serenaded by Jonathan Coulton, Paul and Storm, and Molly. As you can see in the video, Wil felt the same way.

Table for 15


Table for 15
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.

Last night we had the pleasure of dinner with some friends of Chris’s from high school. Elizabeth and Geoff live in Seattle with their blended family (her son and daughter plus his three sons). Elizabeth’s sister was in visiting from Boston and another Boston to Seattle transplant plus the Lindroos-Pramas-Freins brought the party up to six adults and nine kids (mostly boys).

Dinner was a gigantic feast of Dungeness crab, cooked in perhaps the biggest pot I’ve ever seen in a home kitchen, plus corn, cornbread, a summer salad packed with seasonal vegetables, slabs of watermelon, and plum tarts with ice cream.

Very few of the kids had eaten crab before and Geoff was enthusiastic about introducing them to a real crab feast. Kate, a burgeoning near-vegetarian, was a little queasy about the crab but gamely tried it and then filled up on corn bread and watermelon (which is what I would have predicted). She’s trying to expand her food horizons and challenge her palate but she has a hard time with fish and “sea bugs”.

As the night crept on and the adults lingered first over wine and then over dessert and coffee, the youngest children started to drop in place, curling up with pillows and under chairs to stay close to the action until they just couldn’t keep their eyes open any longer. Meanwhile, several of the boys (including at times both dads) stepped over to an adjoining room that was packed with musical instruments and began jamming. They were FANTASTIC. I tried to get some video of the moment but my phone video was too dark and really couldn’t capture the energy and skill of the group. At one point Geoff and his step-daughter were swing dancing while the boys jammed but I was too slow to capture the moment with my phoen (and didn’t have my real cameras with me). Kate, an only child, the oldest child there and a girl out-numbered, played a card game with some of the younger kids and then stuck close to the adults as has always been her way.

It was glorious chaos and good for the soul. I had a marvelous time.

RIP Ted Kennedy

I am so terribly sad about Ted Kennedy’s death from brain cancer.

I have a friend who can’t forgive Ted for Chappaquiddick.

To me, Chappaquiddick is something that happened before I was born. Ted Kennedy, who had two brothers ASSASSINATED, developed an alcohol problem and had a tragic car accident because of it? Color me shocked… shocked, I tell you.

Believe me, if Kate was killed in a stupid, tragic alcohol/drug-related car accident, I’d be upset. I’d be REALLY upset. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the guy involved in the accident was “devil incarnate” or an “irredeemable bastard.” My position is that Ted Kennedy has done enough for the United States of America to redeem himself on that. He cleaned up, eventually, and frankly, until you or I have TWO brothers BRUTALLY MURDERED, I refuse to pretend to pass judgment.

Ted Kennedy reflected and supported my values in Congress. We needed him and he took up that burden for us. I know “conservatives” hate him, I know there are people who can’t get over his liberal politics or his privilege or his flaws. I’m unconcerned by those issues where he is concerned. To me, he will always be “The Lion of the Senate.” I can say without any cynicism or sarcasm, I appreciate the role he played in passing important legislation such as the COBRA Act, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Ryan White AIDS Care Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Mental Health Parity Act in 1996 and 2008, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Rest, Ted. So sorry to hear that your life has been cut short, because despite your long career I do believe that you had much more to give and much more crazy Republican crap to defend us from. I hope someone will give us their all the way you did, I long to find some progressive who was raised to believe in the obligation we all have to service. But as far as I’m concerned, you’ve paid your debt through public service. I intend no disrespect to Mary Jo Kopechne by this.

Thank you, Ted.

I used to be a blogger

There was a time when I happily blogged about things and shared rants, recipes and random trivia with people through the internet. After taking a long break and trying to get back to it, I’m not having much luck.

There was a time when I would have written up a passionate rant trying to convince people to join me in this or that fight against injustice. Today I’m keeping that kind of thing more to myself, I guess. However, Colin McComb’s recent link to a Bill Moyers interview with Wendall Potter (a former health insurance exec at Cigna) did manage to get the ol’ blood pumping again enough to at least post a link here as well. Americans, read this and demand change! Non-Americans, read this and fight tooth and nail to keep it from happening where you live. Don’t just excerpt, go slog through the full transcript.

WENDELL POTTER: The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you’re heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.

Cooking for the Pramas Party

Unbeknownst to Pramas, I was plotting his birthday party for a couple of months before it happened. It all started with me beguiling him into agreeing to put our Belize money into a patio. I wasted no time in getting that started because my secret plan was to have it done in time for a birthday barbecue. Fortune favored me on that and I was able to get a company to come out and do the patio in pavers for what it would have cost me for a concrete pour (taking advantage of a company that had just the right number of pavers left over from a bigger job). Then, I got a great deal on a grill during a Memorial Day sale and was able to do a lot of landscaping improvements while Chris was away at Enfilade and Book Expo.

Luckily for me, Chris is used to my compulsion to make sure all guests are well fed and while he did think I was going a little overboard for a barbecue with half a dozen people, he put up very little resistence, even getting the extra chairs out of the attic “just to be safe”.

Even though I was expecting up to a dozen more people to show up, we had plenty of guests, including friends from San Francisco and Vancouver, BC who made it over. The surprise kept rolling as people kept arriving over the first three hours of the party.

I didn’t get as far into the last minute cooking as I’d wanted because I misplaced my big pasta bowl which was the only bowl that would fit the pesto pasta dish I’d made and left me running around with things half completed when people started arriving in numbers. I managed to get out some chips, Pramas’s famous hummus, fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, cherries, strawberries… I still have a pineapple left, which I might try grilling up for game night), Salada de palmito, where I substituted fig-balsamic vinegar instead of using red wine vinegar, pesto pasta, a full spread of cheese and salumi salami with some of Mark Bittman’s Parmesan cream crackers and Smitten Kitchen’s rosemary flatbread, a couple of different types of tofu on skewers for our vegetarian guests, North Carolina-style Pulled Pork, hamburgers and sausages from Columbia City’s own Bob’s Quality Meats on buns from Columbia City Bakery. (I also couldn’t resist a loaf of their whiskey cake with espresso glaze, which we never even got around to slicing.) I also baked two Guinness Chocolate Cakes. Believe it or not, I had originally intended to have another salad (Avocado and Belgian endive), fresh salsa (Salsa Criolla), and chicken satays with homemade peanut sauce and some homemade ice cream but I flat ran out of time on those. Game night should certainly benefit from remainders this week!

It’s taken me a couple of days to feel recovered after the last push on getting the house, yard, and food set up to my liking for the party but I’m definitely feeling in the swing of cooking again if nothing else.

Cooking and eating

I’ve been getting back in the swing of cooking around here again but not back in the swing of blogging about it. During my recent silent period I did a bunch of work in the back yard of the house, including finally putting in those raised beds that I’ve been talking about installing in the side yard for years now. I’ve got tomatoes, peppers, winter squash, basil (sweet and Thai), and several other herbs, doing really well. The strawberries are unhappy, the onions were looking pretty sad even before I got them in the ground. Jury is still out on the beans and peas. I’m still hoping to see some sunflowers and wildflowers from the seeds I spread.

The other night I cooked up a couple of halibut cheeks wrapped in prosciutto (inspired by Cook Local’s Prosciutto wrapped halibut with asparagus sauce and then grilled, along with scallops with basil (from the garden!) also wrapped in prosciutto that came out pretty well. I’ve been keeping a steady stream of asparagus in the house from the farmer’s market and just loving it. The farmer’s market has been a great source of inspiration lately, full of strawberries, rhubarb, great bunches of mint, spring onions, amazing tomatoes, Columbia City Bakery’s baked goods, and lovely rarities like kohlrabi and sunchokes. I also baked Blondie and Brownie’s fabulous raspberry-rhubarb pie though I used about half as much of the chai-oatmeal crumble topping as called for and might cut it back even further in the future, I’ve been on the Cooking Light minimalist-style of pie baking for too long, I guess.

Speaking of Cooking Light, it remains my go to for excellent, good-for-you recipes but I have been branching out a bit. After many years of almost but not quite getting a grill, I finally have one and the weather’s been cooperating so I’ve been going through Steven Raichlen’s books for recipes and techniques, or doing a little more experimenting via new-to-me food blogs. I also have a bit of a food crush going on for Eating Well magazine right now. Picked it up on a whim and was pleased to note their nutrition and health advisory board includes people like Marion Nestle (author of Food Politics and Safe Food) and Brian Wansink (currently the Executive Director at the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and author of Mindless Eating). The rest of their advisory board members are similarly prominent nutrition scientists, professors, and researchers but Nestle and Wansink jumped out at me in particular because I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food which quotes both Nestle and Wansink; I read Wansink’s book last year myself.

Anyway, I’m interested in the sorts of things that are appearing in Eating Well at the moment and it’s a fresh take on food and nutrition that I really appreciate. My current favorite recipe is their Huevos Rancheros Verdes, which I’ve been making for a couple of weeks now. Dead easy and everyone in the family likes it! I’ll post it below. Give it a try, if you like it you might like the rest of Eating Well Magazine, too.

Heuvos Rancheros Verdes
Eating Well Magazine May/June 2009

1 1/2 cups very thinly sliced romaine lettuce
1 scallion, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
3 teaspoons canola oil
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup salsa verde
8 6-inch corn tortillas
3/4 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine lettuce, scallion, cilantro, 1 tsp. oil, lime juice, 1/8 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper in a bowl. Set aside. Combine beans and salsa in another bowl.

Coat both sides of each tortilla with cooking spray. Place tortillas on a large backing sheet in four sets of overlapping pairs. Each pair should overlap by about 3 inches. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the bean mixture over each pair of tortillas and sprinkle with 3 tbsp. cheese each. Bake until the beans are hot and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack each egg into a small bowl and slip them one at a time into the pan, taking care not to break the yolks. Season the eggs with remaining 1/8 tsp. salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook undisturbed 5 to 7 minutes for soft-set yolks. For hard-set yolks, cover the pan after 5 minutes and continue cooking until yolks are cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes more.

To assemble, place an egg on top of each pair of tortillas and top with a generous 1/4 cup of the lettuce mixture.

My brother


Chad in clinic
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.

My brother and his lovely girlfriend are both doctors. They’re spending the summer doing doctorly work in Haiti and Megan sent some photos today. This one is of my brother at work in the clinic. They’re also both spending some time each week learning Creole and playing with orphans at the Kai Mira orphanage that is associated with their program. (Megan writes that my brother, true to form, is very popular with the kids because he’s so fun to play with… and that he sprained his ankle playing soccer with them.)

I’m so proud of my brother and Megan for going into medicine in the first place (with an eye to providing medical care for the poor and vulnerable) and for doing this kind of work in Haiti, which has so constantly been in need.

When I told my friends about what my brother was up to this summer, one friend shared her family connection to the effort to provide medical care in Haiti, too. Her husband’s aunt was married to Larry Mellon, who (inspired by Albert Schweitzer’s work in Gabon) decided in his late 30s to go to medical school, became a doctor at the age of 44 and founded Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti in 1956. His aunt Gwen became a medical assistant and worked beside her husband there.

Dr. Paul Farmer (about whom the book Mountains Beyond Mountains was written) is of a similar mind as Larry Mellon and he, too, went to Haiti looking to provide medical care to some of the world’s poorest. He co-founded Partners in Health, which began work in Haiti and has since grown to become a worldwide health organization. After working with the Haitian people and witnessing the 2004 coup d’etat Farmer also went on to co-found the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Farmer is speaking at the University of Washington later this month and I plan to attend his lecture.

Chad and Megan will be back from Haiti in about 8 more weeks but I’m sure this experience will stay with them much longer than that. Did I mention how proud of them I am?

Snapshot of the day

I’m not one who ever posts a summary of my Twitter activity as a substitute for a blog entry but I’m making an exception today because I think these give a pretty good snapshot of my day.

Chris is gone for the weekend, playing games at Enfilade in Olympia. The weather is supposed to be really outstanding this weekend so I hope to hang with Kate and get a lot accomplished on my yard and gardening projects while the sun shines. Also, barbecues!

Here’s the snapshot of my day:

I have a family of Bewick’s wrens living in my birdhouse. I think this is the first time it’s been used instead of my laundry room vent. Yay (12:25pm Pacific)

http://twitpic.com/5pplv – Sunny day ‘office’. (12:57pm Pacific)

A boy just walked past chanting/singing happily, “Yipee Yi Ay, mini sirloin burgers!” I can hear him fading into the sunny distance. (3:17pm Pacific)

Text message from my daughter: “Can I have a squirrel?” Uh… no. (3:25pm Pacific)

Kate and I grilled burgers, watched birds and talked anime. Next: movie night! (8:52pm Pacific)

Just overheard Kate telling my plan to eventually have her drums in the garage. “Then we could have a real garage band.” (8:54pm Pacific)

Eavesdropping on teen phone call: “Awsome…awesome…that’s,like, triply awesome…sounds awesome…. That would be totally awsome.” (8:56pm Pacific)