Weekend update: One step forward…

It's starting to look a lot like Christmas
It's starting to look a lot like Christmas...

On Friday, 2 December 2011, I brought my 1998 Honda Civic coupe to Boch Honda in Norwood, Massachusetts, for maintenance and repairs. The 120,000-mile oil change, annual inspection, bumper reattachment, and new water pump and hoses totaled close to $2,000, which is nearly what the automobile is supposedly worth! If I can get through the winter unscathed, it’ll still be cheaper than car payments — for now.

I also “snailmailed” the first batch of holiday packages to friends, including Byron V.O.’s raffle winnings from the Super MegaFest. (I often don’t get all my cards done until after Christmas.) At work, I’ve been busy with assignments and planning for the year ahead, including TT‘s annual company meeting in mid-January. Janice and I had dinner at Wild Willy’s Burgers in Needham, Mass., and the next morning, we brought the last load of autumn leaves to the local dump.

We then met my former boss Michele L.D. and her husband Paul D. and onetime co-worker Ken G. and his date Sarah for a pleasant lunch at British Beer Co. in Framingham, Mass. From there, we joined gamer Sara F. at the AMC Framingham 16 to screen The Muppets, which we all liked. I’ll review the movie in more detail soon.

Sara, Janice, and I did some shopping at Shopper’s World and had dinner at T.G.I. Friday’s. We then went to the Natick Mall — formerly the pretentiously named “Natick Collection” — and got dessert at Red Mango. Since it was getting late, I didn’t get to the Lego Store or the recently moved Newbury Comics.

On Sunday, Janice volunteered at the animal shelter, we put up our Christmas decorations, and I ran the latest virtual session for my Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Landsfantasy campaign. I’ll try to post an update for that game, which will probably take another hiatus as the role-players travel in the next several weeks.

Neither team for my FATE 3e “Vortexspace opera is meeting tonight because I’ll be celebrating Janice’s birthday by taking her to the Fuji II Steakhouse. Happy Birthday this week also to my cousins Socorro and Joke, college chum Ron J.K., and niece Becky Z.! I’m mostly caught up on genre television (including some good science fiction documentaries), but I have several books, comics, and DVDs waiting…. What have you been reading or watching?

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!

Summer 2011 winds down

Human sacrifice?
Human sacrifice?

Although I’ve been dealing with several big projects at work, I’ve also been out of the office a bit lately. On Wednesday, 24 August 2011, I joined Janice at her department‘s clambake at Steep Hill Beach on the scenic Crane Estate. We had met Corbin A.Y. and family on the North Shore just a few weeks before that at Malt Hill in Beverly, Massachusetts. The grounds of the vacation home he and Andria K.Y. rented with his boss provided a pleasant retreat.

I enjoyed the shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster at the clambake, but Janice had few alternatives to seafood — a rack of short ribs and corn bread. Most of her co-workers went down to the beach, and we checked out the impressive grounds of the mansion. The traffic on Route 128/I95 both ways was heavy, even though we tried to avoid rush hour.

We probably won’t get to the Marshfield Fair or the King Richard’s Faire this year because of other travel. Hurricane Irene brought heavy rain and high winds to the entire East Coast of the U.S., but we were spared the worst damage. After last week’s earthquake and the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaching, skittishness was understandable. Needham Heights did lose power for a short time around midday on Sunday, Aug. 28.

Since as many as 20 people died, I think it was prudent to evacuate coastal areas from North Carolina through Long Island — it’s better to be safe than sorry. Fortunately, Janice and I had gotten some low-hanging branches removed and our gutters cleaned in the past few weeks. We did have to pick up numerous smaller branches.

I had hoped to see the Conan the Barbarian or Fright Night remakes with Thomas K.Y. and Josh C., but they and the Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Landstelecom fantasy game will have to wait until people’s mutual schedules clear up. At least the half-season premiere of Doctor Who was entertaining.

I had to work from home again yesterday because power to my office and the Riverside MBTA station was out. Unfortunately, I didn’t check my e-mail beforehand and drove to work, finding out about the building closure only after dealing with detours caused by fallen trees.

On a sadder note, I recently learned that Ray C. and a former co-worker at BNA in Washington, D.C., had died. Ray was a good friend in my early years of high school, and like the late Bill B., we shared budding interests in science fiction, fantasy, and role-playing games. They’ll be missed.

Back to Chicago

Chicago Skyline by r_seaman@hotmail.com
Chicago skyline

This past week, I helped TT’s events staff with BriForum Chicago 2011 at McCormick Place. I didn’t have much time for sightseeing, but since I had visited the windy city twice before within the past year, I can’t complain! I began reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, an evocative urban fantasy, on the flight from Boston.

The virtualization conference went smoothly, and it was a good opportunity to serve alongside Alex H. and co-workers outside of the editorial department. I helped stuff welcome packets, introduced speakers, managed one of the breakout rooms, and gathered session evaluations.

Since we had good wireless connectivity this year, I was able to check in with the Newton home office more often, which rewarded me with more work. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet my cousin’s family, since she was visiting the Philippines.

The days were long but fulfilling, from setting up rooms at 7:00 a.m. to dinner and other events in the early evening. On Monday night, Alex and I tried to go to the Meatloaf Bakery, which I had seen on television, but it was closed. So we had a good falafel dinner instead at Sultan’s Market, followed by decadent desserts at the Austrian Bakery.

After a hike through hot and humid weather to the train from Chicago’s Near South Side to the more upscale Lincoln Park, we took a cab back to the Hyatt Regency hotel. The next night, we went to a vendor-sponsored event at the Howl at the Moon piano bar, near the famous Billy Goat Tavern. I tried a Goose Island Honker’s Ale (although I preferred the Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter at the Yard House in Dedham, Massachusetts).

I returned to my hotel room on one of the earlier buses because of work, but I made up for the lack of socializing the next evening after grabbing a leftover sandwich from the North Shore Kosher Bakery. Alex and I joined Jackie H., Peter D., and Tom K.T. for more food and drink at Kroll’s South Loop and the M/X at our hotel. Among other things, I had a Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale and a Dark Horse Black Bier.

I’ve learned a lot about office politics in the past year, and the remainder of the show went smoothly. We endured a sweltering cab ride on the way to O’Hare Airport, and I had to find my way home after midnight after getting to my car in a parking lot near Logan Airport. I’ve spent the past few days catching up on summer TV such as Warehouse 13, Leverage, White Collar, and Torchwood: Miracle Day.

Coming soon: More movie reviews and Comic-Con reflections!

Food and games

Fabulous foursome
At Ken G.'s Cinco de Mayo party

Around Easter a few weeks ago, Janice and I visited her extended family in Pennsylvania. We had a pleasant time, and spring greenery had arrived there a few weeks ahead of New England (my allergies have since caught up).

In addition to seeing Janice’s grandmother, we went to Zern’s flea market and Talarico’s sandwich shop. On the way back, we stopped at Cracker Barrel, which reminded me of the Ninety Nine and the Black-Eyed Pea, a homestyle Southern restaurant near where we once lived in Virginia. I’m a big fan of family eateries, even it’s not healthy to visit them too often.

I’ve recently started reading and contributing reviews on Zagat and Yelp, as well as coupon e-mailing lists Groupon and Living Social. Just over a week ago, we used a Groupon at Pomodoro, a nice Italian restaurant in downtown Needham, Massachusetts.

On Tuesday, 3 May 2011, Janice and I went to the Needham Public Library for a presentation on the Phantom Gourmet, a local television show that focuses on New England restaurants. Mike Andelman, part of the family behind the show and its events, was approachable and informative. Even with the economic recession, Boston has become a “foodie town,” with numerous cuisines and options.

Although I was disappointed at the Phantom Gourmet‘s defense of the Upper Crust’s exploitation of illegal immigrants, I appreciate that the show has focused on affordable eateries and not just fancy ones.

During the Boston Comic Con, I had lunch at Café Jaffa, a Middle Eastern restaurant in the Back Bay. Like a few friends, I’ve been on a falafel kick lately, and if I had to become a vegetarian, it would be a staple of my diet. Speaking of vegetarian friends, Janice and I attended Ken G.‘s annual Cinco de Mayo party at Jillian’s in Worcester, Mass.

We enjoyed the food, drink, and company, including former co-workers Michele L.D. and Bob R. and fellow blogger Thomas K.Y. While I get along well with my current co-workers and gamers, it takes years of common experiences to build a strong rapport. We also played pool, air hockey, and assorted carnival and video games.

Unfortunately, on the way home that night, my car started making a lot of noise. The next morning, I took it to Boch Honda, where pipe repairs and a fluid flush totaled $800.

Coming soon: Thor, steampunk festival, and more!