Thanksgiving 2011

Norman Rockwell's vision of America
Thanksgiving by Norman Rockwell

On Wednesday, 23 November 2011, Janice and I drove down to my parents’ home in Virginia. We passed through heavy rain, but the traffic wasn’t too bad. We stopped for lunch at Boston Market, and my mother had a good dinner waiting for us. We watched Jeopardy and talked about politics, history, and travel.

On Thanksgiving, my brother Peter, his wife Kelly, their two daughters, and his mother-in-law Maureen joined us for the traditional holiday feast. I’ll to spend the weeks before Christmas trying to work off the turkey, potatoes, and desserts.

In response to one of my nieces, I’m thankful to live in a country where there is still freedom and opportunity, despite political squabbles and economic stress, and to be able to spend time with family and good food.

The weather was warm and pleasant, so we got to play badminton and horseshoes with my energetic nieces. The next day, Peter returned to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and we did some yard work, played volleyball in shirtsleeves, and of course, ate some more.

On Saturday, Janice and I visited her grandmother in Pennsylvania. We ate another all-American meal at Saville’s Diner before returning to the road. Even with heavy traffic, a detour, and stopping for dinner at Cracker Barrel, we made better time than in many other years.

Since then, I’ve been catching up on reading (R.I.P. “Pern” author Anne McCaffrey), genre TV (including the end of the fun Batman and the Brave and the Bold, as well as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movie marathons on cable), and role-playing games (updates and reviews to come).

Will work for food

At Bertucci's
CW copy desk reunion

On Wednesday, 2 November 2011, I had lunch with colleague Matt G. at El Pelon, near Boston College. We enjoyed the pescado (fish) burritos. Although there are several good burrito chains now in the area, including Chipotle, it’s nice to get something more authentic from a restaurant that isn’t part of a chain. Our group at TT has been dealing with some turnover lately.

That evening, I met several former IDG/CW co-workers for dinner at Bertucci’s in Framingham, Massachusetts. While I get along well with most of my current team, it was nice to recapture some of the camaraderie of the past 10 years and find out what people are doing now.

After getting our Verizon FIOS restored the next day, I met current co-workers at Union Street in Newton, Mass., for the going-away party of Alex H., with whom I went to Chicago this past summer. I’ll miss her, as I do Bianca S., Jess M., and others, and I hope to continue to meet and help train talented young staffers.

Speaking of Chicago and work, Janice and I ran into Colin S. and his girlfriend at the Christmas Craft Fair in Boston this past weekend. As usual, we enjoyed browsing among the paintings and photography, jewelry and clothing, and of course, food! We picked up a few pieces of dragon artwork from Ruth Thompson, as well as some soups, homemade soaps, and baked nuts (you are what you eat).

In addition to a Rotary Club pancake breakfast at Needham High School, Janice and I tried out Tavern in the Square in Central Square in Cambridge. It’s apparently a sibling restaurant to Union Street, and the food and drinks were similarly decent. The portions (and corresponding check) were a bit large, however.

We also stopped at Rodney’s Bookstore, the Compleat Strategist, and Pandemonium Books & Games. Among other things, I picked up the latest edition of Star Hero, but I resisted the temptation (for now) to also buy The One Ring or Airship Pirates in hardcopy, since I’m not running a high-fantasy Middle Earth or steampunk game right now.

In between preparing for my regular games (updates to come) on Sunday, Nov. 6, I picked up Beruk A. at the Riverside “T” station and drove to Thomas K.Y.‘s condominium in Lexington, Mass. We and Thomas’ girlfriend Kai-Yin H. watched 13 Assassins, a violent but well-choreographed movie in the style of Seven Samurai, one of my favorite films.

Thomas and Kai-Yin graciously shared a Chinese “hot pot” with lamb and pork for an early dinner with Beruk and me. We talked about upcoming movies, political and economic news, and Byron V.O.‘s planned visit.

For a few years now, our dinner options during weekly role-playing games were limited to Oak Hill sandwiches and Stone Hearth Pizza. During the past few weeks, we’ve added Indian food to the places we can order from, with Masala Art and Pronti Bistro. Variety is good!

Although Janice and I are bummed that the chocolate and baking classes offered through Needham Community Education were canceled, we won’t run out of things to do or places to eat anytime soon!

Early fall 2011 travels

Janice & Gene
Janice and Gene

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been busy during the past few weeks shepherding some big projects to completion at work. I’ve also been fighting a recurring sinus infection, no doubt aggravated by seasonal allergies and fatigue from travel.

In the last weekend of September, Janice and I flew down to Virginia to see my family. We were originally scheduled to attend Nathaniel L.’s bar mitzvah in Brooklyn, New York, but since an ailing uncle of mine was visiting from Belgium, my folks took priority.

We joined my parents and uncle for lunch at Café Indigo before checking into the Courtyard by Marriott at Battlefield Park in Manassas. We stopped by Game Parlor in Chantilly before a hearty dinner at Cracker Barrel.

On Saturday, 24 September 2011, my brother and his family joined us for the Rappahannock County Farm Tour. My nieces enjoyed the hay ride, got to saddle up for the first time on a horse rather than a pony, and watched in awe of a beekeeper using smoke but no protective gear. We had lunch at Belle Meade Farm, listened to some music at the Link, and had dinner back at my parents’ home.

That Sunday, we attended mass at the Church of the Nativity, where Lili had been baptized, before another big meal at Peter & Kelly’s. Janice and I returned our rental car without incident, but we were held up at Dulles Airport because of a temporary security lockdown.

Despite predictions of rain, Janice and I enjoyed the Needham Harvest Fair on Saturday, 1 October 2011. The highlight of the annual festival is the “Souper Bowl,” in which local establishments compete. The weather was even nicer this past weekend, but we decided against the long drive to the King Richard’s Faire, instead visiting local Halloween shops.

On a more serious note, I hope that my uncle and my brother-in-law Gary feel better soon. Although I won’t be attending my 25th anniversary high school reunion this coming weekend, Janice and I will be going to a bed and breakfast in Providence, Rhode Island, in the coming weeks. After that, we’ll see what’s in store for Halloween and Thanksgiving!

More food and travel

Yummy dinner image
Steak and bleu cheese

On Friday, 29 July 2011, Janice and I met Valery M. and his family for dinner in Boston’s North End. We passed the parade for the feast of Saint Joseph on the way into the traditionally Italian neighborhood. Valery is a colleague I had met at Citrix Synergy in San Francisco last year, and we hit it off immediately. He and his family spent a few weeks in the U.S. before returning to France.

We ate dinner at La Famiglia Giorgio’s, a family-style restaurant. The food and conversation were good, and we had lots of leftovers. It was great to have homemade pasta Bolognese, worthy of the “food porn” on The Phantom Gourmet or TV Diner. At other points in the past few weekends, we’ve eaten at some favorite chains, including Wild Willy’s Burgers, Comella’s, P.F. Chang’s, Farm Grill, Chipotle, and Stone Hearth Pizza.

I noted to Josh C. at lunch recently that after visits by friends and family (including David I.S., Damon F.P., Erik B.L., and my brother Peter) in the first half of 2011, Janice and I are the ones traveling in the latter half of the year. We’ve already been to Maine, Upstate and downstate New York, Chicago, and Northern Virginia, with more trips to New York and Virginia still to come! I look forward to celebrating various birthdays, weddings, and reunions, but I’ll be glad for the occasional quiet weekend at home.

Last week, I met fellow CW alumni Michele L.D. and Jacqui D.B. for dinner at CK Shanghai. I had the sizzling eggplant pot with beef, and it was very good. Michele got Jacqui’s and my leftovers because we were both traveling the next day.

This past weekend, Janice and I flew down from Logan to Dulles Airport. We had dinner with Peter and his family at the Dogfish Head Brewpub, where I had grilled salmon and the Chateau Jiahau. Like Peter’s sweeter Midas Touch Ale, the rice-based beer was recreated from an ancient recipe.

Before going to the Lego BrickFair the next morning, we met my parents for brunch at Eggspectations, where I had a good frittata. We later played Wii Sports Resort with our nieces and watched The Green Hornet, which was a bit disappointing. While I enjoyed stoner comedy Pineapple Express, the high body count and sense of humor wasn’t really a good fit for the superhero.

The Green Hornet started more seriously in radio as a descendant of the Lone Ranger and is best known for Bruce Lee‘s (subject of recent documentaries) U.S. debut as Kato in the late 1960s television show — with the possible exception of a crossover with Adam West’s Batman. While I haven’t been able to keep up with the various spin-off titles, Dynamite Entertainment‘s Green Hornet comics have been pretty good. I’m glad I waited to see Seth Rogen’s version on video.

On Sunday, 7 August 2011, my family and I, plus Peter’s mother-in-law Maureen, went to Old Town Alexandria. We explored the art galleries at the Torpedo Factory and had a birthday meal for my parents at the Chart House on the waterfront. I had excellent crab cakes and shared a decadent chocolate lava cake (Is there any other kind?).

We later all played Uno before my parents returned to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Later that night, Janice, Kelly, Peter, and I watched Will Smith and Eva Mendez in the romantic comedy Hitch, which was better than I expected. Hitch reminded me of a classier Boomerang.

Even with traveling nearly every other week, I hope to resume my regular Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Lands” telecom fantasy and FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures: “Vortexspace opera games soon. We’ll see whether the July hiatus has made my role-players more eager, stirred potential Game Masters, or caused more delays. I’ll post more about various RPGs next!

The end of Harry Potter and Borders

Banner for the final Harry Potter movie
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

On Sunday, 24 July 2011, Janice and I screened Harry Potter [8] and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The movie was a mostly satisfying conclusion to J.K. Rowling’s fantasy saga, if not as lighthearted or filled with wonder as some of its predecessors.

A generation of young readers has grown up with the boy wizard, Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the villainous Lord Voldemort. Rowling’s ear for Dickensian names and characters, eye for detail, and increasingly intricate plots are generally well served by director David Yates.

Lead actors Daniel Radcliffe as Mr. Potter, Emma Watson (whom I saw in person at the British Museum last year) as the smart Hermione Granger, and Rupert Grint as the long-suffering Ron Weasley have matured before our eyes. They remain sympathetic, aided by eccentric tutors (most notably Maggie Smith as Prof. Minerva McGonagall and Michael Gambon as Prof. Albus Dumbledore) and too many classmates to name here.

Since she had rented Part 1 of The Deathly Hallows just last week, Janice had a somewhat easier time following the muddled story, which involved our heroes collecting and destroying reliquaries called horcruxes to weaken Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). After several chase scenes, the dark lord’s hordes of corrupt wizards, lycanthropes, and giants has a final confrontation with Dumbledore’s “army” of students at Hogwart’s.

The visual effects were solid (I saw the 2-D version), the script had more humor than the preceding entry in this series, and romantics will be comforted as people pair off and the fallen are avenged. The many supporting characters each get only a brief moment in the spotlight, but I was glad to see Matthew Lewis’ Neville Longbottom rising to the heroic challenge, as well as the motivations of Alan Rickman’s Prof. Severus Snape finally explained.

I’d give The Deathly Hallows Part 2, which is rated PG-13 for violence, about a “B,” 7.5 out of 10, or three out of five stars. How does it compare with the rest of the live-action adaptations?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) ***/B+

The Chamber of Secrets (2002) ***/B

The Prizoner of Azkaban (2004) ****/A-

The Goblet of Fire (2005) ***/B+

The Order of the Phoenix (2007) ***/B+

The Half-Blood Prince (2009) ***/B+

The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010) ***/B-

The Harry Potter franchise has been more popular than any other young adult fantasy series, such as The Chronicles of Narnia or “His Dark Materials,” but horror melodrama Twilight may eventually challenge it for box office receipts. I’d rather see Redwall than many of the more angsty alternatives.

On a more adult level, I’m looking forward to the new Conan the Barbarian movie, as well as Peter Jackson’s two-part adaptation of The Hobbit. I don’t expect them to be especially faithful to the source material, but I hope that they at least capture Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien’s spirit.

Speaking of books, Janice and I also went to some shops this past weekend, including the Borders at Legacy Place in Dedham. I’ve ordered many books online, but I’ll miss the experience of browsing in brick-and-mortar book chains. Fortunately, we also went to Magic Dragon Comics and The Book Rack in Arlington, Massachusetts, before meeting Thomas K.Y. and his girlfriend Kai Yin for a steak dinner at Tango.

Coming soon: Captain America review, Comic-Con, and how I’d reboot the DC universe!