Entry for August 10, 2006: Virginia trip recap

Friends, I hope all's well with you. On Sunday, 30 July 2006, I played the "City of Heroes" online game with Dexter V.H. in the morning. That afternoon, I met with college friend Ron J.K., who was again visiting his family in Brookline, Massachusetts. Due to the warm, humid weather, we just visited a few local bookstores and had dinner near where Janice and I live in Needham Heights, Mass., before Ron returned home to Westchester, New York.

The D20 "Mutants & Masterminds" 2nd Ed.: "Drake's 7" superhero game has continued on Tuesday nights. The most recent role-playing session found the current Player Characters infiltrating the submerged space vessel of the alien Collectors off the coast of Maine… I plan to order some HeroClix miniatures to represent "named" comic book heroes and various P.C.s, and speculation continues about the return to my long-running D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands" heroic fantasy campaign this autumn.

On Saturday, 5 August 2006, Janice joined me in visiting family and friends in Virginia. I wish our latest trip was under better circumstances. My father, who bounced back from a heart attack about 18 years ago and from the removal of a tumor and his right tricep last year, has suffered a recurrence of cancer. An aggressive sarcoma in his jaw has doubled in size in the past week or so, growing onto his palate and severely sapping his appetite and energy level.

Our Jet Blue flight was delayed for an hour because we had to change airplanes due to computer problems, but it was otherwise pleasant, thanks to the start-up airline's democratic lack of space-hogging first-class seats, its satellite DirecTV and XM Radio service, and healthy snacks.

Unfortunately, Janice's and my delayed arrival forced us to skip the Udvar-Hazy extension to the National Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport, which we'll have to visit when we have more time. My younger brother Peter picked us up and drove us out to my parents' home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. After noticing the continued suburban sprawl west of Washington D.C., we stopped for lunch at Jerry's Subs & Pizza (one of our old favorites when we lived in the area) and picked up a few groceries on the way.

As one might expect, it was very difficult to see my father in his current condition, and we hope his doctors will be able to swiftly help him. Fortunately, he has several medical contacts, my mother's good cooking, and numerous friends for support. My parents have had to drive two hours each way every day from "Little" Washington to Charlottesville (where my father has been teaching medical history at the University of Virginia) for his radiation therapy. We're still waiting on a more definitive prognosis and plan of treatment, which will likely involve radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and radical surgery.

After a good meal of burgers, my mother's egg rolls, and several types of cheese, Peter returned to his wife Kelly and young daughter Ava in Alexandria for the night. We tried to help my mother in what small ways we could (my father has also hired a gardener). The next morning, they came back with roast chicken and sides, and Janice baked a birthday cake to celebrate both of my parents' birthdays (see Yahoo Photos). Our clan had a fun reunion and relatively relaxing afternoon.

We reluctantly returned to Alexandria, where Peter dropped Janice and me off to visit chez Rothandler. Steve M.R. & Aleece R. live only a few blocks from Peter & Kelly, and this was Janice's first time at their condo. We also got to meet Steve and Aleece's infant son Connor, who seemed healthy and happy (see Steve's Yahoo blog for more details).

Speaking of health, it has been a top topic among my friends lately, with the 40th birthdays of Janice, Carolyn M.P., David F.R-B., Steve A.L., Carlo R., John Z.G., and Corbin A.Y.; the recent deaths of parents of friends including those of Steve and Stuart C.G. (Janice and I learned of the latter from Dexter only a few days ago and have sent condolences); and the chronic illness of other family members, such as those of Ron, Steve M., and Dexter.

In addition, the necessary evil of placing very young children in day care has led to persistent ear infections in Ava (six in three months!) and pneumonia in Connor, leading their parents to consider changing day care providers. Janice and I accompanied Peter & Kelly as they dropped Ava off on Monday and Tuesday mornings, and while I'm sure she gets much attention from the people there, she is the smallest in her room of many toddlers.

Janice and I also later learned that our 11-year-old niece Laura, daughter of Janice's middle sister Michelle, had experienced a grand mal seizure early this past week. Fortunately, her sister Becky's dog noticed and awoke the rest of the family in the middle of the night. Janice's family is worried that it could be the onset of epilepsy, but we hope that the health insurers and parsimonious hospital in Upstate New York deliver the care needed for her to get well. Laura was expected to accompany the annual family visit to the shore in Wildwood, New Jersey, and a trip to Boston for a whale-watching cruise later this month. We've had enough bad news for a while…

Anyway, back to our trip. On Monday, Aug. 7, Janice, Peter, and I took the Metro into the capital. We walked across the Mall to the wondrous (and free) museums of the Smithsonian Institution. We saw the small 50th-anniversary Muppet exhibit at the National Museum of American History, which will be closed for most of 2007 for renovations.

After a decent lunch in the basement café, Peter went home because he has been fighting a cold, no doubt partly the result of fatigue from work (his federal contract ends this month) and stress from trying to take care of Ava and our father. Janice and I braved the heat and walked past the Old Post Office to the National Portrait Gallery, which was bigger than we remembered. We spent the afternoon in the impressive collection of history and art, saving the Spy Museum across the street for another time.

Janice and I then took the Metro (the district's subway train) to Dupont Circle, where we found Jim J.D'B. (sans spouse Cathey) at a used book store. We then met Corbin A.Y. and Carolyn M.P. at the Brickskellar, a pub from my grad school days at the George Washington University more than a decade ago.

Cathey was at a class, as was Corb's wife Andria, while Carolyn's husband Hans C.H. caught up with us in time for dinner and drinks. We were somewhat disappointed to find that the Brickskellar didn't have quite as many beers in stock as its menu said, but we had a good time anyway, discussing politics, health, and genre entertainment (Carolyn is also a fan of the BBC/A&E's "Hustle").

We also compared notes about various gaming groups, from the shift in my own D20"M&M"2e: "Drake's 7" and D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands" group and potential cameos, to turnover in Hans' D&D3.5 "Greyhawk" party, to Jim's participation in Tim M.B.'s "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" and D&D3.5 RPGs.

Janice and I caught a ride with Corbin to Alexandria through a brief thunderstorm. As it turned out, Andria was right behind us, and she hopped out to say hello as we pulled up to Peter & Kelly's place. Corb & Andria will be visiting Boston in a few weeks.

Janice and I flew back to New England on Tuesday morning, making up for the delays in leaving by returning home a half-hour early! After we ran some errands and began catching up on e-mail, James B. stopped by, forgetting that my game wasn't meeting this week. In all, we've been on an emotional roller-coaster, but we'll have to see what the next few weeks bring…