Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just Like in the Movies

Thursday, May 19th was travel from Youngstown, Ohio to Warrenton, Virginia. The map directions told us to pick up the Pennsylvania Turnpike and take that to 522, then go south. Ten years ago, I believe Carole and I drove this same route on her high school graduation trip to see Civil War sites. Our first stop was Gettysburg and we left early in the morning on a Tuesday, arriving in Gettysburg in the early evening. We rented a car for that trip.

So, the part where we picked up the turnpike in Pennsylvania to the exit with 522 seemed vaguely familiar. We passed a rest stop that I think Carole and I stopped at because it advertised ice cream and chocolates. The terrain wasn't familiar along the route, but I don't remember who drove what sections of that trip.

We came over a hill and saw a bunch of yellow warning signs. I wasn't sure if it was for a toll booth so mom prepared to hold up my I-Pass to pay the toll. That is one great change from 10 years ago. My I-Pass worked on the Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes. It was wonderful to be able to hold up the transponder and breeze right through the toll booths.

We got closer to whatever the signs were for and realized it was a tunnel. That's when I knew I had driven this before and that it was when Carole and I visited Gettysburg. I know the tunnel has a name, but I'll be darned if I remember what it is. Of course I'm going to take photos. The results struck me as being exactly like that opening ad in an IMax theater, you know the one. It advertises THX technology.

We were following a semi-truck.
A little after mid-point in the tunnel.
And here comes the end. 

I look at these photos and I can hear the music associated with that advertising segment. "Da da da..." Whoosh. We were going highway speed and the road wasn't that bumpy. I didn't realize the photos were blurry until I downloaded them. I kind of like the effect. 

And the movie will be "Muppet Movie". "Turn left at the fork in the road."

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Break Time

We are reaching an age where there won't be anyone alive who remembers when long-distance car travel did not consist of hopping on an Interstate. The Eisenhower Interstate System was authorized by Congress in 1956 and construction began shortly after.

I certainly don't remember a time when there wasn't an Interstate 80 running east west through Iowa. I do remember when Interstate 35 did not go all the way to Minnesota and when Interstate 355 in Chicago and 380 in Iowa did not exist. I remember the family vacation to Chicago where we drove on Interstate for the first time. What excitement! Four lanes of highway divided by a grassy median that was actually mowed. What a concept. There is no doubt that Interstates make travel much easier.

I realized, when I drove to Connecticut in November, that I have driven most of Interstate 80.
I lack the section east from the junction with I-87 at Morristown, New Jersey and from Reno, Nevada to the terminus in San Franscisco. It would be a neat goal to finish out those two sections, to say that I've driven the entire length of I-80. 

Along the way, I've seen the good and the bad of Interstate rest stops. Illinois rest stops rank at the bottom. There was no room to fan out along the side of the highway as the road snakes under Chicago, so they built a building over the expressway. In concept, it's cool. In practice, it's just a way to hand out deals to friends who "manage" the buildings. They are old and barely serviceable as rest stops. 

Another state with lousy rest stops is Indiana. From the outside, they look okay, but inside, at least the one we stopped at just inside the eastern state line, was not clean or welcoming. And the gas station, well, I blogged about that in another post. Won't take debit cards, in this day and age? Hello? 

I think Ohio has the best rest stops I've seen. 
Big, full-service, clean, they were a welcome stop for lunch and a snack as we journeyed across the state. I can see that the recession hits this building as much as it hits anywhere else. Less car/truck traffic translates into less profit for the merchants who have stores in the plaza. I would hope that the chains such as Burger King, where we got lunch on Wednesday, would see these franchises as providing good-will to the traveling public and not see them solely on whether they make x amount of profit or, indeed, any profit at all. It's gotta be hard because how much staff can you schedule when sales are totally on the whim of the traveling public. 

Mom and I were grateful for the nice facilities. I've done my share of trips where the bathroom at a service station was all you had or, you had to pull off on the side of a dirt road and hope no one passed by while you went behind a tree. Such events are the things of memories but I also like the good memories, of a clean, shiny rest area where services were available.

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Monday, May 30, 2011

It Wasn't There Before

I came home from the grocery and began to put things away. It still seems to "scare" the girls somewhat so I dragged Pilchard's box away from the front of the TV and into the middle of the living room floor. Instantly, she was happier and I heard her jump up onto it. I came into the living room and she was happily lying on the top.

Wait. That wasn't on the top when I put the box out.

Beverage:  Milk


Trying Change

It's taken a long time but I seem to have turned a small corner in life. With every paycheck, I save a little into a savings account and I have my IRA. From January through April, I saved 95% of all the expense checks I got as well as socked away a portion of my overtime. That allowed me to pay for 98% of my expenses for Carole's wedding. The only thing I had to charge was the gas at that rest stop in Indiana because they wouldn't take debit cards. I am really proud of myself for that accomplishment, given where I was 18 months ago. This savings allowed me to get the Wheaton Ale Fest VIP ticket. I know I will have fun and I am worth it.

I am, by no means, out of the woods, so to speak. My car is slowing falling apart. I need to sink another $350 into it this summer. The canvas top, going on 5 years, at least, old, has cracked. That cost me $500 to replace when I replaced the original top and the two people from work who helped me then have moved on. I'm pretty sure it would be just me doing the job and I don't know that I have the patience to do that. It's time to seriously consider the longevity of the Jeep.

I can't control that, however. What I can control and what I have decided to work on is my diet. Sad doesn't quite cover it. I decided that, beginning Memorial Day, I would take the small steps necessary to change what I eat and make it healthier. I'm not following any diet, per se. I'm just doing small steps with a target to do them all week. If I tell myself I'm going to eat "healthy" for a month, 30 days is a long time and if I fail one day, I know me. I am very good at beating myself up.

Today was grocery day. I took stock of what I have and what I want to have in the fridge and cupboards, made a list and headed off to Dominicks.

I'm going to eat a yogurt a day. I love yogurt and I can find it in a huge number of tasty flavors.

I love salads. I got the fixings to make my own salads and save the $3.50 to eat off the salad bar at Dominicks. I would get a Dr Pepper and a slice of chocolate cake. I don't need the last two at all. The snap peas don't look very green in the photo but they are. I'll eat those with dip for a snack. By "dip" I mean a small container of salad dressing. No sense buying something called "dip" when salad dressing works just as well.

Fresh fruit will supplement the salad and make a perfect meal. I have dried cranberries on the shelf. I couldn't find the sunflower seeds. I'd like some of those and I have to shred some cheddar. Then, all I have to do is assemble the salad the night before, grab it in the morning, toss on some dressing and grab some sliced fruit with yogurt and I'm ready to go. If I'm too tired to cook at night, I can have a salad.

I bought what I think will last me a little over a week. With a grocery a 5-minute drive from the office, it's dumb to buy more than I can eat in a week. Dominicks is on the way home, too.

I have cut out processed foods save the few things I have on the shelf right now. No canned or boxed or frozen meals. I've had the last pizza I will have for a week. I am going to try to cook myself something every night or eat up left overs. This will be a daunting task because it's so easy to just grab a can or a box of something, nuke it and have dinner. And Carole will testify, the vegetable/fruit drawers in the fridge are for pre-composting those things which will wind up in the compost pile.

I have 2 weddings and 2-5 evenings out with friends in June. I won't suddenly say, "Oh my, nothing here meets my dietary impositions!" I will still go to Steak 'n Shake or Red Lobster or have wedding cake. Done in moderation, all things fit into a diet, even cheese fries from Steak 'n Shake.

So wish me well. One week. Then start again the next week. Then start again the next week. Baby steps. It takes awhile to learn new habits, learn to eat differently. I expect to fail but I'm going to try to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.

And I'm giving myself permission to have one treat per week. I'm set for the next 6 weeks. Made with real sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. Expensive compared to a 2-liter or the fridge cases which were on sale. This is the bottle I remember from my youth. Same empty calories, but it's going to be my treat at the end of the week for doing what I told myself I'd do.

Beverage:  milk


Ticket Procured.

I got my VIP ticket for this event today. It's printed and on my fridge. If the weather is nice, I can walk here from my house. Even rainy, I could put on my raincoat and walk. Although I don't wish the days to pass any more swiftly than it appears they currently do, I'm excited to go. www.wheatonalefest.com gets you all the details. 

Beverage:  Cranberry Grape Juice


Rain. Again.

It poured yesterday, all day, until around 4. Lots of lightning and thunder, too, which scares Pilchard terribly. She was fine for a bit, being cuddled in my lap, but one particularly strong crack/boom combo caused her to leap off my lap and run frantically around the house looking for a place to hide. My friend, Sheila, suggested a tent of some sort where she could go. She goes under the settee right now but doesn't stay there. If I could just get her to stay in my lap and know that I'm here and it will be okay, she might get used to this, over time. And then I wonder if my attempts to calm her only make it worse. None of my other cats has ever reacted like this. They have been scared when the winds and weather collide but never to the degree Pilchard is. I just want to help her, but I don't know how. After the heavy storm passed, she just wanted to be in my lap, to have her ears scratched and to sleep.

So, what does one do on a terribly thundery and rainy day, one cross-stitches. A couple more hours of work and I've turned corner number three.

Beverage:  Cranberry Grape Juice


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Second Project, Day 9

There will be a box by holiday's end. 

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Are We There Yet?

A road trip such as driving from Illinois to Virginia, gives one a good taste of the country. It may be quicker to fly, but the sights along the way and the chance for a random meander make a drive, it you can do it, the more pleasurable experience. I love to fly, and when Carole lived in Seattle, it was the only way to go see her. But I had the vacation time and the ability to drive to the wedding made the trip more enjoyable. Still, when the odometer rolls over 50, 100, 150, 250, 500 miles, you want to know that you're making some sort of progress.

We traveled a lot when I was in my teens. My dad had wanderlust, that desire to see this country, to go places which were just names on a map. Every year from about 1969 through 1975, and possibly beyond but I didn't go after graduating from high school, we packed the van with camping supplies and spent a week to two weeks on the road, seeing America. Grandpa and my uncle Leroy took care of the farm. We went to the Black Hills and Devil's Tower; northern Minnesota and the headwaters of the Mississippi; Springfield to walk in Lincoln's steps; Chicago and Cubs baseball (they lost); and a two week swing south through Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and back straight north along the Mississippi.

One of the things we looked for was the state signs. We would watch, when the map said we were getting close, for that elusive sign that said you had left Iowa and entered Illinois. Some of the signs were small and you'd miss them. Others were larger, particularly on interstates. That's still true today, although I think every road into a state is now marked by a large sign, lest you forget you have entered new territory. I like to document these signs. It's a visual representation of a trip, a marker of where you were.

 I drove the entire trip with Mom as navigator. On Wednesday, May 18th, there were only 2 signs to see. There was Indiana as we left the Chicagoland area heading east on a drizzly, foggy, overcast morning, and Ohio, as we drove onward to April and Perry's. It was still overcast as we headed into Ohio but the clouds parted until around Cleveland. Then we hit some heavy rains. Those cleared out as we reached Youngstown.

Thursday was the day of many signs. The first was, of course, going from Ohio into Pennsylvania on the turnpike. We drove along the Pennsylvania Turnpike for awhile before the directions told us to leave it behind. The roads the directions selected; I-70, US 30, US 522, VA 37, I-81; took us quickly through Maryland and West Virginia. Before we quite knew where we were, Virginia arrived and I never got photos of any of the signs.

Coming back was a different story. I hadn't really liked the route selected by the trip finder. It was direct, no question about that, but part of it had been through small towns on two-lane roads. We hadn't really seen the things I wanted to see. Ironically, I knew some of the best views were not from the two-lane highways but from the interstate.

So, heading back to Youngstown on Sunday, May 22nd, we drove north from Warrenton and picked up I-66 heading west to I-70. A later post will have some of the views from the interstate as we headed through the Great Smokey Mountains. I bought a road atlas on Sunday. Funny how the one from 2005 really isn't what you want. Mom watched the map and alerted me to when we would reach a state line.

First up was Maryland. We drove along the pan-handle of Maryland on I-70 to I-68. It's a gorgeous trip, really. Good roads and stunning views. It's quick but there are still mountains to cross and valleys to traverse.

We had just briefly, on the two-week trip in the 1970's, been in the Great Smokey Mountains when we wandered into Pigeon Forge. I remember one look out station where we stopped, but we were not heading the right way so we turned around, found the correct road and headed back south towards Huntsville, Alabama. This highway mom and I found ourselves on was a delight for her. She got to see the mountains, something she may never do again.

As the drive was so easy, we kept going until about 6:30. By then, we had crossed into West Virginia and had decided to stop in Morgantown. Yes, this blurry photo is the state sign for West Virginia. It was brilliantly sunny, we were going uphill and the windshield was dirty, but we'd made exceptional time and we collapsed in a hotel room for a good night's sleep.

It turned out we were about 2.5 hours from April and Perry's. Well, we weren't really expected so soon so we slept in, got breakfast and gas and took our time getting going in the morning. I missed the sign which told us of the arrival into Pennsylvania. I think there was a truck in the right lane and I was passing it. We hit rain as we approached Ohio. It rained off and on before clearing up for the afternoon. Heavy storms with tornado warnings were in the evening and north of us.

Tuesday, it was time once again, for the longest travel day of the trip, Youngstown to Wheaton. We'd made the trek out in around 8 hours. Perry said we should be back at my house about 6 p.m. his time. We fortified ourselves with a good breakfast and got on the road.

Ohio is big and long. Going out, it didn't seem quite so big. Maybe it was the anticipation and excitement of starting a journey. Coming back, gad that's a long state. I quipped to my mother that it seemed as if they had added extra miles as the Indiana state line seemed to never come. It didn't help that every 50-75 miles, there was road construction and lanes would be reduced to one, going 50 miles an hour. I don't think I've ever been more happy to see the Indiana sign.

It took a little over 2 hours to get across Indiana. I've made parts of this drive before so it felt like a dash and when I-80 meets up with I-94, I know the home stretch is approaching.

That home stretch is covered in concrete. Unlike the somewhat bucolic settings for every other state sign, the northeastern corner of Illinois is highway, highway that seems to be in a permanent state of construction. There was the sign, tacked to an overpass and I knew exactly where we were and just how long it would take us to get from this point to my driveway. We pulled in 15 minutes shy of 5 p.m., 6 p.m. Perry's time.

I look back through these photos and remember passing the signs. They document a journey, a wonderful journey, a chance to spend time with my mom and my friends and to see the landscape, places different from where I live.

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Happy Anniversary to Me!

May 23rd marked the 2nd year I've been posting my thoughts, feelings and observations in this little blog. As I did last year, I wanted to mark the occasion by changing the view. For this next year, the blog will look like this.

I won't mess with the layout. It's like changing where you put the dishes in the cupboard. If you move the cups to the other side, you'll never be able to find them when you want some tea.

But changing the color scheme is like repainting the living room. Every so often, it's good to change.

I like the dandelion silhouette. It reminds me that I've come through some very difficult times but fun and playfulness are always there for me. Step back and watch the dandelion seeds blow away in the wind. Think of them taking a trouble away, removing it from your shoulders and giving it over to the whims of the world.

I've been true to my self-imposed goal of having a post a day. Some months, there is more to muse on than in other months. I'll go days without a post and then have 4 in one day. I limit myself to 4 so you don't have to scroll back so far to catch up. No bets about this weekend, however. I have a lot of things to talk about.

So, once I've paid my bills, I'm hoping there will be enough left over to make a beer/wine run. I deserve to toast myself with something good, although that mead is looking very, very tempting. (What mead? Where? Blog post later.)

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Games Galore

One of the great things about April and Perry, other than how fantastic they are as friends, is that they are gamers. Now when you see the word, gamer, there is a stereotype that pops up. It's a nebbish, late 30-something male, overweight, unemployed and living in the basement of his parents' house. He probably went to college but his degree in business management really hasn't gotten him anything. He held a job for 5 years but got laid off or, probably, fired and he's thrown up his hands and quit looking. Mom would love it if he'd stop playing on the computer and find a job.

Gamers aren't like this. I fall into this category as do April and Perry. They are "hard-core" gamers, too. Walk into their dining room and you'll see a stack of games on the sideboard. Perry regularly combs the Internet gaming sites looking for new games. They have a regular Monday game night where they get together with a bunch of people to play games. They like role playing games but also have dice, card and board games. As I planned my trip to Connecticut in November and this trip to the wedding, I planned around being in Youngstown for the Monday night game session.

We played just a couple of games on Wednesday, Wits and Wagers and Say Anything.  In Wits and Wagers, all answers are numbers and they are based on trivia such as, "In 2005, how many people in New Zealand claimed 'Jedi' as their religion." You answer and then bet on whose answer is the highest without going over the actual number. Bets have a 2-5 to 1 winning and, at the end of the game, you can bet it all. I don't remember who won, but it was fun.

Say Anything. It's hysterical and prone to lots of silly and very ribald comments. I had played this with the crew in November when I had passed through and it's one of those venerable chestnuts you pull out because you know it's going to be fun.

You have dry erase boards on which you write an answer to a question. "In my opinion" starts the question so you want to give an answer you think the reader will choose. Then you bet on which of the answers is most likely to be picked. The potential for answers involving "vibrators" or "in bed" or other similar sentiments is high, particularly if it's late and the group has imbibed. I don't remember who won Wednesday's game. I think Perry won Monday's version.

On Monday, mom and I arrived at April and Perry's much earlier than expected. That allowed us to play a couple more games. Another chestnut of gaming is Carcassonne. In this game, you draw a tile and then use it to build a city or a road. You score points when your "meeple" claims a road or a city that gets completed.

I had played this with them back in November. It was a bit confusing at first, what I was supposed to do, but I got the hang of it. I don't like strategy games and there is a small amount of strategizing here. But the game is quite dependent upon what's on the tile you draw. I finally got the hang of it and I won this round.

After Carcassone, we played Munchkin Booty. I am familiar with Munchkin. I have given one of the various expansion card sets to various friends of Carole for birthdays and Christmas for many years. I had never played it before.

It will take maybe another couple of games for me to really get the hang of what you do and what the cards mean. They are silly, witty and full of puns. I had a great time and I see why people like to play it.

After this, Joe and his wife, Belinda, arrived and it was time to haul out a brand new game, Dixit. This was different. You have to think when you play this one.

You're given a handful of cards. Each card has an image on it which can only be described as "surreal". On your turn, you pick a card and come up with a word or phrase that describes the card. Once you say that word or phrase, the other gamers must pick a card from their hand that they think best represents what you have said. These are laid on the table and mixed. Then you bet on which card is the speaker's. Points are awarded based on whether you successfully pick the speaker's, don't pick the speaker's or have your card chosen.

As this was the first attempt at this game, we played it until Joe and Perry won. I'm on the fence about it. Some of the cards I had in my hand were weird, in a disturbing sort of way. I would play it again but I don't think it's something I would own.

After this game, we played a game I am adding to the wish list. I love Apples to Apples and Say Anything is great too. But playing a card game with killer bunnies, trying to kill bunnies and trying to be the person who has the magic carrot at the end was so much fun. There's strategy with this game in terms of "Do I want to kill Perry's bunnies because he has 3 carrots and he can't win the game if he doesn't have bunnies alive at the end of it?" That's the extent of it and that's the kind of strategy I like. Belinda won this and she was very excited because I guess Greg, who wasn't in attendance, usually wins. My mom had fun playing games too, which made the evening special.

I wish I lived closer. I could see a once a week game night where you get together with friends, order pizza or something else, have snacks and beverages and spend 4 hours playing games. I grew up with games and we bought a lot of games when Carole was growing up. While I love playing WOW, stepping away and playing Mille Bourne or Sorry or Uno or Carcassonne or Dixit or Killer Bunnies would be a great way to spend an evening. Sometimes I wonder if all the games that could be invented have been and then something shows up and, wow, this is great.

Solo games are a lot of fun, but they really can't beat the social interaction of a bunch of friends laughing over "In my opinion, what is the worst thing you can say on a first date?" No, I won't put down the winning answer.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Gauging Gas

I didn't want to fly to Carole's wedding. It was an option and I do like to fly, but anymore, it's such a hassle. I couldn't afford to buy a ticket back when the date was set and then, as the time marched on and the costs rose, the ticket became more and more out of my reach. At one point, I honestly thought I wasn't going to be able to go to the wedding, simply because my finances wouldn't allow it. But judicious skrimping and saving and doing without allowed me to save what I considered to be adequate funds to make an over-the-road trip. Plus, driving would allow me to see people from Spectacular Death and that's important to me.

Enter gas prices. In April, I watched them race towards $5 a gallon. The week before Bin Laden was killed, gas was $4.55 in Glen Ellyn. I paid $4.61 in Chicago on May 15th. At that time, it was much less in the 'burbs, but I needed gas then and didn't have much of a choice.

My mother was going to bring her Durango in spite of the 12-15 mpg.. My Jeep will get 15-17, so it wasn't that much better. The day before she arrived, I did the numbers and realized I was going to be short and would wind up charging more than I really wanted to. I could skip meals, I tend to do that anyway when I'm traveling, but it was going to be really tight. The saving grace on this was splitting the costs of travel and the fact that 2 of our days were going to be at April and Perry's which would save us a bundle on lodging. Then, when mom's husband insisted she drive his car with the 26-27 mpg gas mileage, I knew this would work.

She filled the car for $3.60 in Iowa. Our first gas stop was the first place on the Indiana toll road. I decided that I should stop when we got to a quarter tank and not push it. Running out of gas is not cool. We were pleased with this gas price as it was $4.29 around me.

We discovered that Dale's car would get us from Point A to Point B on one tank. This was a godsend. It eliminated a fill-up each day. That saved us $130-$160. Knowing this savings made the trip less stressful.

Our next fill-up was in Youngstown, Ohio on Thursday. We went to breakfast with April and Perry and then to get gas. We were excited at the prospect of gas at this price. But, we are heading towards the DC area. Who knows what it will be there? We were expecting the metro-Washington area to have higher prices than Youngstown and were bracing for that.

Nope. We filled up on Saturday on the way to the wedding. David's dad needed gas as did I so I filled up at $3.69 a gallon. We did see gas at $3.68 in Warrenton, but the place we stopped at was on the way to the church. Easy in and easy out.

We didn't do much driving on Saturday so this tank took us out of Virginia on Sunday as we began the trek home. The directions I had from Yahoo to get to Warrenton, took us over some 2 lane roads. While it was the most direct route, it wasn't that scenic and really wasn't that fast. I bought a road atlas on Sunday and we went a different route back, through the mountains. Amazingly, our gas mileage, even with the ups and downs, hovered around 27 mpg. Our next fill-up was in Morgantown, West Virginia on Tuesday morning.

We thought it was interesting that this large sign doesn't list diesel as an option. That last line is for "kero", which we took to mean "kerosene".

This tank took us back to Youngstown and across Ohio. Yes, at the spot where I broke down back in November, I thumbed my nose. Maybe that's tempting fate but it was good to sail past that spot.

Our last fill-up was also the priciest. I let it get into the "red" zone, where we're running on the last little bit. I made the decision to stop at the first service plaza in Indiana after we crossed from Ohio. I wasn't sure how far we were from getting off and getting back on and didn't want to make a bad decision to wait and risk running out. We were quite astounded at the prices way out in eastern Indiana. Oh well. We hadn't paid this at any point in the trip and this tank would get us back to Wheaton and get mom to Iowa where she could fill up for much less.

This was at a Mobil. As we traveled west towards Chicago, plazas changed from Mobil to BP. In doing so, gas prices dropped 40 cents. It was kind of depressing but I knew we couldn't have made any of the BP stations. Maybe Mobil is the only company who will provide gas at those lonesome stations, but it seemed very out of whack with what we saw advertised on billboards and with what we encountered closer to Chicago.

It's $4.19 today. I need to put gas in the Jeep. I remember, in 1973, during the Arab Oil Embargo, we were going to take a family trip to northern Minnesota and one of the questions we asked the places we were staying was if they had gas. We had seen supplies run short in our small town as well as the images of lines stretching for miles as people waited for those limited deliveries. Even after that experience, we never really thought of trips with an eye towards gas prices. Now, you have to.

Would it have been cheaper to fly? I don't know. I would have needed to rent a car for 3 days, fill it with gas. I wouldn't have had the chance to spend a week with my mom, nor would I have seen April and Perry and Joe. I wound up coming in right at what I had budgeted which makes me feel really good, that I was able to figure this out.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Of COURSE It Would Happen While I Was Gone!

You all know I play World of Warcraft and run a guild named Spectacular Death. The online blog that covers this game, WOWInsider, had a contest called "Guild of the Month". They have done this for roughly a year. I say "roughly" because it's taken a hiatus based on what has happened in the game. They don't run the contest when major events are taking place in the WOW universe. I have entered SD every chance possible. I'm very proud of this little semi-organized corner of the game and I love to brag about it.

Back at the end of March, I received the following email:
Spectacular Death is a finalist for March's Guild of the Month. I have a couple of questions. Are you the guild leader? And what should I call you?
Now, the "what should I call you" garnered quite a few suggestions and I'll leave those to your imagination. I simply answered that the emailer, Robin Torres, an Insider editor, could call me "Gimmlette". I received the following in reply:
Congratulations, Gimmlette. Spectacular Death is the winner of this month's guild of the month. Your events and helpful website were big factors in your selection.
If you could please send more screenshots of your guild's antics and a profile that is similar to how Sleeper Cartel or Stonewall formatted theirs, I will get it up on WoW Insider soon.  Key questions to answer are:
  • How did your guild begin?
  • What do you consider your greatest achievements?
  • What kind of things are you doing now?
  • How do you see your guild's future?
To say I was thrilled is a bit of an understatement. I believe my officers got an email with "OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG" as the subject heading. I quickly responded to the questions and then sent photos over the April 2-3 weekend. We had an all-guild event planned for April 1st anyway so that was a great time to announce to the guild what had happened. "It's going to be posted 'soon'!" Yes, 'soon'. That's the operative word here. 

So we watched and waited...and waited...and waited. I emailed Ms. Torres April 15th and was told, "It's coming soon." April 20th, one of my officers analyzed when previous Guild of the Month posts were put up and they fell from the 9th to the 28th of the month. April 28th came and went with nothing. 

May arrived and we watched. I emailed on April 30th, asking if it was going to be posted soon but got no reply. They had run the contest in early April and we wondered if we might have offended them by asking how soon. There was a lot happening in the game, to be sure, and a lot more is coming, probably next month. Covering all the changes and potential changes is a daunting task and I understand those game changes are more important than a contest. But, as the days passed and nothing showed up, I began to wonder if we weren't going to be forgotten. I fully expected to not hear anything about the contest and then have it show up, fresh and new, in November with nary a mention of March or April's Guild of the Month. 

I got back to the hotel room last Saturday night, having spent a perfect day watching my daughter get formally married and then celebrating that marriage. I think Mom and I were lounging on the bed watching Animal Planet when my cell phone rang with a text message. It was from Totorodoo. "Insider finally posted the Guild of the Month article. Congrats." OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG! Finally. I sent text messages to everyone from the guild whose number I had. For the next 2 hours, my phone rang with messages. What a great way to end an astoundingly perfect day.
March's Guild of the Month: Spectacular Death

Yes, that says March and not May. We'll be announcing April's winner soon, but first let's (finally) congratulate Spectacular Death for being March's Guild of the Month. They won a $100 gift code from SwagDog (which they have already received and spent). Gimmlette, their guild leader, tells us about Spectacular Death in her own words:
Our guild portrait [above] says it all. People are wearing a wide variety of tabards which represent all the events we've participated in; achievements we've helped each other with; factions we're exalted with. We've gone everywhere and done most everything. We have every race and class.
The beginning

"Spectacular Death was formed on Dec. 15, 2007. My second in command, Superkind, and I were dissatisfied in our current guild. We were stalled getting into Karazhan and we really wanted to expand our view. We both wanted to see classic content but no one was interested. "What if you started a guild where the idea was we'd do the old content?" he asked me. I didn't think, if I started a guild, anyone would join.

"We stood in Goldshire on the 15th, with Superkind asking for signatures and promising people a gold to sign up. As I had more money than him, it was my gold, but we got the signatures. Superkind is the only original signer who stayed. The guild name was suggested by him because I have this tendency to die in very spectacular fashion. There really isn't a way I haven't died in the game. We always celebrate those spectacular deaths because that's what you'll probably remember. Our best was a 0.03% wipe to XT-Deconstructor as we were learning Ulduar."

Greatest achievements

"We've accomplished so much given that our guild is built upon the foundation of an eclectic group of casual players with different mindsets and goals and varied playtimes. While we will never be the first into content, we don't let that keep us behind and we make the most fun possible out of every event. Recently, we got Starcaller and Kingslayer within a week of each other. I am so proud of how people worked to down Algalon and Arthas.

"During Wrath, we would defend the Alliance leaders against the For the Horde runs organized by Gauss, the leader of a horde guild, Three Score. We had so much fun defending we named Gauss our first honorary Guild Member of the Month. We're proud of being able to shut him and his forces down on occasion since we're not a PvP guild.

"We constantly run old world content while learning and progressing through new content. We rate our success in game by how much fun we're having not by what we should be doing compared to other guilds, and we feel that is our greatest accomplishment."

Current activities

"We are slowly working through Cataclysm content. We've been in every raid except Blackwing Descent. Since we go everywhere and do everything, we just have to fit it all into a month and not overwhelm members with things to do.

"We have to finish the guild achievements for Classic and Outland Raider. We still need to conquer Ruby Sanctum. We want to run ToGC and heroic ICC and then come back into ICC, thank Wrynn for his help, but remove his buff just to see how much harder it is. We'd also like to get Astral Walker, but that's going to require help from another guild. Some members have expressed an interest in getting T1 or T2 gear sets and there's our infamous naked Molten Core runs.

"Also recently, we started an RP group; we have "Play Your Horde Nights" to get a taste of the other side of WoW; PVP nights ... I could go on. When we say we do everything, we mean it."

Future plans

"Our future is quite bright. There are more things to do than we have time. As we're a guild of casual players, you aren't penalized for having a real life. Sometimes, we just don't have enough people to run planned content. On those days, we find other things to do. As an example, we've been working through Naxx 25-man content with 8-11 people. The Safety Dance achievement is a lot easier to get when you only have to worry about 10 other people. Gluth, however, was a problem and we haven't gotten past him.

"I want to provide an atmosphere where your schedule is not an impediment to seeing all content. If you're looking for progression, try that guild over there. If you are looking to see all content in a casual, relaxed atmosphere where there is an emphasis on fun first, you might want to check us out. We welcome all ages and server transfers. Burned out hard-core raiders might also want to look us up. Check out our web site, www.spectaculardeath.net."

Finally. Finally. Finally. There we are. We used the SwagDog gift certificate to get my second-in-command, Superkind, a hat. To the left is the front of the hat. I really like the color he chose. The Chinese-style dragon is our guild icon and it's done in the ivory color we have on our guild tabard.  To the right is the back of the hat. He didn't put his name on it. 

I got a couple of tee shirts. Now, in reality, I need more tee shirts like I need bubonic plague, but I don't wear baseball-style hats and the other offerings, shirts and tees, were just not appealing to me. They were pushing a hockey-style jersey that you could get with your name across the back, but I am not a hockey fan so it just wasn't interesting. 

I chose to have the image you see to the left on a short sleeve tee. I have it on a long-sleeve tee so now I can wear my guild tabard in any weather. The shirt looks tan here but, in reality, it's a nice medium olive green. 

My other tee shirt choice was this one. This looks very cool and is now my favorite of the 4 WOW shirts I own. Shipping and handling were also free so all this cost me was the time to figure out what I wanted. 

The cap and the shirts were $24.99. We still had $25 to spend. After talking with the officers, someone suggested we get Thoril a cap as a thank you for running our voice chat system until his computer died. 

The front. The icon really stands out as ivory on the black hat. Yes, it is the same color on both. 

And the back. He was very surprised but it was the least we could do for his help and giving us a free voice chat for awhile. 

This event topped off a wonderful day. I run the guild to be sure, but I can't do it without all the fantastic people who call Spectacular Death home. I wish I could have given each one of them something to show my appreciation for their simply being in the guild, having faith in me and what I've tried to create. 

And it really does seem fitting that it would be announced the week I decide to go nowhere near the game. 

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


I Know What This Is

It really wasn't much of a secret that the ivy corner piece was going to be something for David and Carole on their wedding day. While I never specified that, I did say it was a gift and I was under a deadline to get it done. What else could it have been? I never posted a photo of the pre-framed finished piece, however. This was taken in the hotel room and I couldn't get a good photo without a flash off the glass, but it gives you an idea of the finished, framed sampler. I didn't wrap it before getting to Virginia as I wanted to show some people.
I am pleased with the final product.

So, on Sunday, they sat down to open and record gifts. She reached for my package first. "I know what this is," she said, chuckling.
When she showed off the finished sampler, I found out that a number of people have been following my blog as they said, "Oooh. So THAT'S what the finished project looks like. I've been watching the blog with the photos and I figured it couldn't just be a corner of leaves."

While this sampler has the actual date they signed a marriage license, I was informed they will be celebrating May 21st as their anniversary. "Guess you'll need to make another, mom, with that date on it." I guess I do. I know exactly what I want to make but I have another project to finish first and then I have to see if I have the pattern. I guess, at Christmas, we'll hear, "I know what this is" once again.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Ending As It Began

Wednesday, May 18th was the start of the road trip to Virginia for the wedding. It was raining.
My mother's husband let us use his car for the trip. It got, at the height of our travels, 27.4 miles to the gallon, not quite double the Jeep. That meant we didn't need to fill up but once a day when we were road traveling and only once when we were driving around Warrenton. To say it saved us money would be an understatement. 

Mom headed home today. It rained overnight and poured when we went to breakfast. It had quit just as she left but she's going to drive into a few showers while heading back to Iowa. 
We could do without rain for a bit or, if Mother Nature insists upon rain, have it be the light soaking rain, the kind that washes the streets clear but mostly soaks into the ground.

So, the week off for the wedding ends as it began, with rain. It's okay to end with rain. I have wash to do and I wasn't planning on going anywhere anyway. 

Beverage:  Cranberry Grape Juice


Stitch Stitch Stitch

Trips give me time to work on cross-stitch. It's the one thing I can do in a car and not get car sick. Plus, I stick my current project in a plastic bag and it's portable and stays reasonably clean. I have, as you saw, a new project going. This trip for the wedding gave me ample opportunity to work on the new project. You can see below how it has progressed over a week of stitching.

I should be able to finish this over this coming long weekend. I'm looking forward to it, actually. It's gone very quickly and is an elegant design. Once this is done, I can look ahead to the next project. I'm thinking I'll finish that book I've half read. 

Beverage:  Cranberry Grape Juice