tafeanorn: (Default)
Hey All!

I know it's been forever since I posted here, but I've fallen out of the blogging habit. Part of the reason for that is personal, part of it laziness and part that I've been really freakin' busy.

Busy how?

I'm quitting my job of 23 years and opening my own game store!

The name of the place is 'Round The Table, and it is a full-featured, large inventory game store, carrying such awesome titles as Telestrations, Hanabi, The Hobbit, Ogre, Cards Against Humanity and Cranium. At the same time, it's all a beer bottle-shop, carrying over a hundred different varieties of craft beer and cider.

It's located in Lynnwood, Washington, at 7600 196th St. SW, a straight-shot off of the 196th St. exit from I-5. We've got great hours, a great team and lots of fun. Check out our calendar of events, our games ready-to-play and our beer list!

Website: http://rttgamepub.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/Round The Table

tafeanorn: (Default)
What’s so special about today?  That my daughter Becca was up much of the night with a stomach flu?  The my wonderful wife Christine was not-so-wonderfully sick as well and aching all over?  That I played a tremendously entertaining game of Crusader Kings II with my friends Layla and Nick?  That I watched a marathon of Season 2 My Little Pony, as directed by the camped-out -on-the-couch Becca?

Nope, none of those, though they did all happen today.  What’s special about today is that I received the first copy, the proof copy, of Ellis: Kingdom of Turmoil.

What is Ellis?  It’s a fantasy roleplaying game I’ve been writing for a while.  A long while.  I just went back and looked at some of my old files.  The earliest file I have is dated February 5th, 2003.  So, it’s been 9 years.  Nine years.  This from a guy who has a hard time focusing on one project for a long time.  Or who did.

But it’s 604 pages.  Written by me (with some fiction written by Chris).  280,000 words.  Laid out by me.  Art chosen by me.  Mapped by me and then the map re-drawn by a friend.

But it’s done, and I can’t help but look back and remember various steps along the way.  Working out all of the world building and astronomy while being driven through the jungles of Central America.  The early playtest session when I forgot to mention that the opponents were all wearing full plate armor, and no one could figure out why they couldn’t damage them.  The infamous playtest session where we spent two hours of game time running, just running to the fight.  The week during year-end inventory at work where I decided to completely scrap the game rules and re-write them to better mesh with the setting.

I made some very good friends through Ellis, and have had a lot of fun playing it with strangers as well as regulars. I cherish those friendships very much.  It’s come between me and those I love and has distracted me from those who are most important to me.  I regret that very much and am devoted to making amends for it.

If I had known how much work doing everything would be, I would never have done it.  It’s a trap, really.  Some many different little tasks and each one within my skill-set to do (except for the custom art).  And since I was able to do it myself, why not do it myself and save money.  But that’s where the trap is: there are so many of those tasks, it’s actually quite overwhelming.  But I did it.

It’s been such a large part of my life for the past nine years that I’m sure that life will seem strange without it.  But at the same time, I have to say that I am eager to be away from it.  I have other projects I want to work, other things to give my imagination and energy.  And the same tenacity that has kept me focused on finishing Ellis has forced me to ignore other things that I haven’t wanted to ignore.  So here’s to opening a door onto a new room of my life.

But at the same time, I’m not actually done.  I have some follow-up stuff to do -- write and adventure, design a website, make and buy ads, sell the darn books....

So that’s where things are.  Though, whatever else I might be feeling or thinking, I feel so accomplished, so proud.
tafeanorn: (Default)
2012 is the year of Ellis: Kingdom in Turmoil.

What is Ellis?  Ellis is a pen-and-paper roleplaying game that I have been writing for the last couple of years.  It is a setting, Ellis is the name of both the capital city and the kingdom where the game takes place.  It is also a set of game rules, the +3 System, specifically designed for this setting.

What makes it special?  Why does the world need another rpg?  Ellis is about roleplaying, about playing a character.  Characters are detailed, but not just details about combat -- when you make a character you make his or her whole life. 

And Ellis is a world that focuses on real people, doing real things.  No wizards destroying armies or priests raising the dead.  But people -- some important, some common -- trying to succeed in the world, trying to resolve conflicts with their neighbors, trying to keep true to their own morals.

Combat is quick with a fair amount of detail.  It encourages movement around the battlefield, and allied fighters assisting one another.  There is no magic, though you may encounter evil witches or evil demons.  But even those foul abominations must bow to the power of the church.

Ellis is a kingdom in turmoil.  The old, beloved king, Heinrich, has died and his three sons have begun fighting over his land.  Greedy lords, kept in check by a strong ruler, are quick and eager to take advantage of the dispute.  And an ancient evil, responsible for Heinrich’s death, is loose again on the world, ready to drown the world in blood.

And it’s almost done.

Yes, really.

The first week of the new year were busy at work doing inventory, but since that was over, I have been devoting a great deal of my time tackling the manuscript.  And it’s nearly ready to go to the printer.  The rules are all playtested and working.  The setting and fiction are fully edited.  The interior art is nearly done, with only a handful of pictures still due to come in. 

And the maps. I’m still waiting on the maps, but I’ve been in frequent contact with my cartographer and I’m confident it will be done by the end of the month.

How close am I?  Very.  I could finish this weekend.  Figure the week after just to make sure.  Very close.

Which has spurred me to think: What’s the next step?  After thinking about it, I think it looks like this:

Sunday 1/15
Print the last proof copy, examining it for layout errors and image problems.

Monday 1/16
Get the Ellis Kickstarter posted with list of perks and video promos.
Talk up the Kickstarter on RPG.net and RPGgeek.com and elsewhere.  Continue this for the next few months.
Make website for EllisRPG.com

Tuesday 1/24
Have the manuscript completely ready (except for maps) and Kickstarter perks.

Tuesday 1/31
Have maps and cover done?

Monday  2/6
Kickstarter ends

Tuesday 2/7
Finalize manuscript and send to printer

Friday 2/10
Proof returns from printer

Monday  2/12
Send revised proof back to printer (if needed).

Thursday  2/16
Second proof returns from printer.  It’s perfect (hopefully!) and I place an order.

Friday 2/17 through Sunday 2/19
RadCon.  Promote book and show off proof.  Sit on RPG panels.

Tuesday 2/18 
Books Arrive!

Or something very similar.

Let’s see if I can keep to it!
tafeanorn: (Default)
And so, I was the first one up.  I reached in and after a little bit of shuffling around managed to get ahold of one of the hens.  We decided to do the rooster last, since he would likely be the hardest to kill and we wanted to refine our method. I walked over near the table and began swinging the chicken.  Then as I contemplated bringing the chicken’s head down on the table, I realized that I was swinging it underhanded, so I was going the wrong way.  Stop and try again, swinging overhand.  Around ... around ... around ... bring it closer to the table ... miss ... around ... closer still ... smack!

Wings flapping wildly ... look at it ... eyes still open ... struggling ... around ... smack!! ... still fluttering ... around ... smack!!!

Get it on the table ... still flopping a little ... grab cleaver ... what do I do now? ... get knife under the feathers ... cut? no ... pull cleaver back and bring it down hard ... hit with the heel of the blade, draw blood, but little else ... is it going to spurt? ... put the cleaver on its neck ... push hard ... nothing happens ... pull the cleaver back again ... aim is good, hit the neck with the front of the blade ... goes through most of the neck ... it’s bleeding, but slowly ... there are three or four splatters on the table ... bring the knife back for another blow ... there’s blood on the knife ... Oh My God!, There’s Blood On The Knife ... bring it down again ... no effect ... the head is off except for the skin of the other side ... set the knife in the gap ... there’s a gap between its neck and its head! ... slice and they’re completely separated ... push the head away from the body with the knife ... set the knife down next to the head ... I’m done ... step away from the table.

I remember stepping away and everyone coming down to the table.  At some point I picked it back up and there was discussion about how to drain the blood.  In the end I just put it feet up in a bucket.

Then I realized that I was breathing heavy and fast.  My heart was beating fast.  I as giddy, maybe hyper-ventilating.  I don’t really know what I was feeling.  It wasn’t triumph or exultation.  I didn’t feel particularly accomplished.  It hadn’t been difficult, either physically or emotionally.  I hadn’t felt bad for the chicken or like I was doing something cruel.  But I definitely felt _something_.  And pretty strongly.

Kelsey was up next.  She had a little trouble getting the chicken up and around, but she did it.  It took a couple of tries to stun the bird, but she eventually got it.  The video shows me helping her cut off its head, but I do not remember that at all.

Layla took the third one and it (or maybe it was Kelsey’s, I don’t remember now) was really active even without its head, managing even to flop its way off of the table.

The rooster was last, and Doug decided that he would take on that beast.  He had a little trouble getting out of the dog carrier and the only way he could get it was to grab it by the neck.  I guess that gave him an idea because then on the walk over the to table he suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, just wrenched the rooster’s neck around, first one way then the other.  It was over very quickly and with a minimal amount of kicking and flopping around.  It bled a bit more than the others, but still there was very little blood, even once we started cutting them open.

Once all four had been killed there was a definite party atmosphere.  The spectators came down and got a close look at the birds.  They took pictures and got close up looks at the bloody tools and table.  We talked.  We laughed and joked.  We reminisced.  It was a lot of fun.  There was a certain amount of closeness and togetherness among us that I have rarely felt.  Maybe this is why people go out on team-building events.  But the emotions going through me (whatever emotions they were) really made me feel something special with everyone there.  It was especially true with the Portland folks, Doug, Jon and Gwynn, who I didn’t know nearly as well, but by the end of the day I knew we would all be lifelong friends.

Still flush with our victory over chicken-kind it was time to butcher them up and turn them into meat.  The first step was the de-feathering.  We dunked them into hot water to loosen them up and then began that messy job.  The smaller feathers came out very easily, but the larger ones on the tail and the wings were stuck on there good.  Many of mine broke before coming out and had to be pulled out with tweezers later.  The process was easier, work-wise, than I had expected, but more tedious and time consuming than I had thought.

The real time consuming part was the butchering.  Doug, Gwynn and I (and maybe someone else, my memory is a bit hazy already) did this part.  Kelsey was there helping, because she had at least seen it done before, while Chris stood on the porch with her laptop giving us unstructions (that was a typo, but after seeing it and remembering how not helpful they were, I decided to keep it) off of the internet. 

The first step was to get the neck and crop out.  The crop, I guess, is some sort of second stomach in the chicken’s neck or high up in its chest.  The goal was to get it out without piercing it so all of that half-digested glump didn’t get all over the bird.  These birds had recently fed, so the crop was full of grass and grain.  There was a lot of slow going and being extra careful with the knife, trying our best not to puncture it.  I wound up cutting into mine, but it was near the top and containable. 

The next step was cleaning out the intestinal cavity and that wound up being a lot of work.  It started with cutting ope a large hole in the bird’s abdomen, all the while being very careful not to cut too deep and puncture the intestines.  So once again, not really knowing what we could and could not cut deeply into, we cut very slowly.  Our knives too, were not the sharpest.  These chickens had a ton of fat on them, especially in their bellies that we were cutting through.

Once the hole was made, we had to insert our hands into the cavity and separate the internal organs from the walls of the cavity.  The worst thing about it?  They were still warm inside.  It was a very disconcerting reminder that this bird had been alive two hours ago.  Once the guts were out, a few quick knife cuts removed the whole kit and caboodle from the chicken.  And there you could see everything, much clearer and more obvious than in 10th Grade Biology class frog.  Liver, heart, intestines, kidneys.

Meanwhile, it was starting to get cold.  The sun had gone down behind the house and the wind had picked up.  Most folks had gone inside, both in search of warmth and there were things to do in there.  Christine cleaned and did some of the detail de-feathering that we hadn’t.  Kelsey and Layla finished up the bread and got it into the oven.  Kelsey get her Rosemary Chicken all prepped and ready to go.  I’m sure other stuff happened in there too, but Doug and I were outside and didn’t see most of it. 

I got a second chicken that had been cut open, but nothing removed, and knowing what I could and couldn’t do a lot better, made quick work of getting those guts out.  Doug, meanwhile, had gone to work on the rooster.  Now he turned out to be quite a bit different on the inside than the hens had been.  His breastbone was a lot longer meaning that the opening to his internal cavity was smaller, which we were initially worried about, but wound up only being difficult because Doug has big hands.  Why?  Because he had practically no fat on him.  The hens had been covered in fat, both under their skin and surrounding their intestines.  Bright yellow, shiny masses of it.  But the rooster must have been a lot more active because he had none of that and once Doug was able to get his hand in there to loosen everything up, his guts came right out.

And there we had it.  Four chickens looking much like they would have in the store.  Not exactly, as I realized as I began chopping them up into pieces to go in the various dishes.  The breasts were very small.  The skin was tougher and more yellow in color.  The dark meat was much darker in color.  And they were a lot fattier, at least the three hens.

One went in the soup pot.  One went into a baking pan whole, flavored with rosemary.  One went separated into a baking pan covered in white wine and apricot preserves.  And the rooster went into a ziplock bag and into the freezer.  After all, we’d only expected three chickens for dinner.

There was some time for hanging out and talking while the chickens cooked.  The mulled mead, my regular mean, watered down and with cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole allspice berries and nutmeg mixed in and heated, was a big hit, so we made another batch of that.  There was some playing of Rock Band.

I was just glad to have my hands washed and be warm.  By the end there, it had gotten bitchly cold outside and I had disembowelled two chickens and chopped into bits three more.  I’ll be happy not to have to do that again for a couple of weeks.  I was a little disappointed that we hadn’t been able to get to the planting of the grains, but that was pretty minor.  We’d been busy!

The chickens cooked for an hour and we had two more people arrive -- Ali and Erik, friends of mine.  The chickens were all done at that point, but I realized that I’d forgotten to make noodles to go along with the one dish, so we whipped those up quickly.  We also hadn’t made any plans for what we were going to eat off of, but at last I found some old paper plates, two more than we needed. 

We all stuck in and ate.  The chicken was ... disappointing.  It was very tough.  This had been a concern of mine.  Several websites had said that the chicken needed to be aged for 48 hours after killing to let the rigor mortis and other death processes run their course.  Other websites and forum posts had said that it wouldn’t be a problem.  Well, it was, or at least something was.  Even the chicken in the soup was tough, so we decided to forgo the soup and just keep cooking it, and see if it would soften up. It eventually did, but not until the next morning. 

Also, the chicken did really taste different to me.  Some people said it was “gamey” but I didn’t taste it.  It’s one of those things: people go on and on about how much better fresh food is and how it’s worth the extra price, but you know, to me, it just tastes the same.

But the bread was a big hit and there was enough food for everyone to get their fill.  We sat around a talked for another hour or two, split up into two groups.  Eventually the Seattle people had to leave, so we said our goodbyes.  But the Portland crew was staying the night on our couches and they were up for some TV, so we watched quite a few episodes of Black Books and had Cake Martinis.  And that was the Fertility Festival.

I did actually forget a couple of things.  At some point before dinner, Doug and I were cleaning up.  It was after dark and there was still a big tub of water in the yard with the guts of one of the chickens (my second one) which had accidentally fallen in the tub while I was cutting it free from the chicken.  We looked at each other, wondering what to do with it, and then Doug suggested we bury it in the field.  Christine, earlier, had emptied one of our bowls of knife cleaning water into the field, with a brief invocation to Demeter.  Both of these remembrances of the field meant a lot to me.

My daughter, Becca, had left the party after the killings were over, because she had a big school event going on, but before she left she said that she wanted one of the heads so that we could render down the flesh and get a chicken skull out of it.  Now, we all knew that by ‘we’ she actually meant someone who was not her, more than likely me.  But we took the rooster head, since it hadn’t been smashed against anything and put it in a pot on the barbeque’s stove.  We wound up throwing the other three heads in as well, because ... why not?  They simmered there all through dinner with no change in fleshiness and wound up stinking pretty bad (maybe because they still had some feathers on them?)  We quizzed Becca the next day about whether she would help out to get her skull, and she vehemently declined.  So, I decided to take them and bury one in each corner of the field, my little sacrifice to the grain spirits.

So what did I learn?  I don’t really know.  I picked up some skills.  I could probably butcher a chicken in half the time it took that first time.  Medievally, I guess I learned that there isn’t really that much meat on a regular, somewhat natural bird, but there can be a lot of fat, which in the medieval/iron age mind is a big thing.  I gained some new respect for butchering a bird like that.  I mean, our knives weren’t very good modern ones, how hard would it be with an iron one?  But I can certainly see that a couple eggs a week would be a lot more valuable than the meat off of the chicken.

What did I learn about myself?  Share more.  Invite people into my world.  Everyone had a great time.  Not because I kept to myself and expressed the interests of the herd.  But because I shared what I was truly interested in and it turned out that other people were too.  Several of us commented afterwards that we’d remember that day for the rest of our lives.  Does that happen by being boring?  By doing what everyone else does?  By keeping those ideas hidden away inside?  Nope, only by sharing them and making them happen.

The other thing that I ‘learned’ or may yet learn from is that emotion I felt after the killing.  I’ve been thinking about it all day as I write this and I still don’t have a good explanation or description for it.  I guess it feels like exhilaration, except that I had no expectation of feeling that way, no ramp up ‘this is going to be so exciting’ feeling before hand.  And so it doesn’t quite feel right to call it a thrill.  (It’s also mildly disturbing to call it exhilarating when it was murdering a living thing.)  I would expect that such a feeling would dissipate as I did it more and it would become mundane, which was how I was expecting it to feel. 

And everyone had a great time.  It was a memorable experience that brought us all together.  I think the lot of us that killed and gutted those chickens in some way bonded over that experience, and that feeling, that effect doesn’t need anything else.  Even if we hadn’t learned anything, or felt anything, that bonding was enough to make it a wonderful day.  Thank you, everyone, for being there and sharing it with the rest of us.
tafeanorn: (Default)
We got to sleep late that night and there was a little bit of panic when I woke up and realized that I had slept in by a few hours.  I got out my laptop with the intention of writing myself a script of what I would say later on and then wound up taking to Chris and then Doug and Jon and Gwynn as they woke up.  Before I knew it, it was 9:40 am and time to get the chickens.

I had borrowed a small dog carrier from Kelsey a few days before, so I loaded that up in the car and drove down to get the chickens.  Google maps had suggested one route, but it had seemed to go in circles, so after a bit of futzing with waypoints I got it to give me a route that looked much more direct.  Except that it wound up taking me through the parking lot of a huge apartment complex which would have actually worked, except that the back entrance/exit to the parking lot was blocked off with a locked gate.  Fifteen minutes later, I finally found the place.

I was met by a very nice Transylvanian lady (I kid you not) who took me over to a small coop containing four chickens.  We talked for a bit, her pronunciation of words was excellent, but her grammar was not so good, and wound up coming out sounding like someone doing a bad Romanian accent.  Her best line was, “Planning trip back to old country soon.  Be gone six months, maybe more.  Men, they cannot be trusted to keep care of chickens. Must sell them before.”

She also said that her husband had said to give me a good deal, so she was throwing in a rooster along with the three hens.  Four birds for $60.  Seems like a lot to me, but Gwynn thought that the hens at least were some pretty prime poultry.  She tried to talk me into buying some ducks too, which were quacking up up a storm, but I begged off of those.  They were pretty mellow birds and were easy to corral into the dog carrier.  It was probably just as well that I hadn’t noticed the huge, mean-looking bone spur on the rooster’s legs until near the end.

I got them home with no problems; they barely made a cluck on the drive.

Once home, there was a bunch of work to be done.  I got the bread started rising.  I got all of our buckets and filled a big tub with water.  Pulled around a big wooden table into the back yard.  Got the gas burner on our barbecue working so we could have hot water to help with the feather plucking.  Chris made the cheese and meat plate.  We put the others to work as wee needed them, but Becca was getting them in the historical mood by showing them the video game Brütal Legend.

When we first came up with this idea, Kelsey and I had decided that we were going to do it in costume.  So, a little after 1:00 pm (as the others were going to be arriving about 2:00 pm), I locked myself in the bedroom and got into my Anglo-Saxon garb.  Which, I have to say, looks pretty damn good.  I still need a few things.  I could use an undertunic and shoes and maybe a cap.  I love the woolen leg wraps, though between those and the long tunic, you can barely see the trousers.  I got it together just as Layla and Kelsey arrived (both of their boyfriends were forced to go into work, so neither of them made it).  We hung around and chatted for a bit, and nommed our way through the cheese and meat platter.  By about 2:30 pm, we were ready to get down to business.

Gwynn was the only other person who donned a costume, although Doug made himself a blood-splatter tunic by cutting holes in a black plastic garbage bag.  So I was feeling a little exposed and embarrassed, but it wasn’t to bad.

We went out into the backyard.  The weather had turned out to be great -- sunny, but cool with a bit of a breeze -- which is a lot better than the dark grey with scattered showers they had been forecasting earlier in the week.  I gathered everyone around and told them I had a few words to say.  Becca and Jon videoed.

This was the moment that I had been working up to all week, even more than the actual chicken killing itself.  There was a brief moment of panic just before I started and then again about half a minute in where I forgot how to speak for a couple of seconds.  But I got my focus back.  I got into character and said what I had wanted to say.

The gist of the speech was to ask everyone to imagine that we were in the 6th Century.  Once there, I got into character as the Germanic head of household of a small farm.  I went on to explain that my son had traded our last cow for some magic grain that was supposed to grow through the winter (I haven’t been able to get a good handle on when these strains actually came into use in Europe.  Are they modern?  Not sure.) and that he didn’t know what kind of ceremony to use to bless his field with the strange wheat.  He gave a brief overview of the ceremonies that his people would have used for summer grains, and then asked for help in extrapolating out to the winter grains.

I thought it went well, that I said what I had wanted to say and that it had come out in an entertaining and interesting manner.  I delivered it well enough and didn’t make a complete fool out of myself.  So that was all good.  I invited everyone into my head for 13 minutes.

Then our attention turned to the chickens.  Now, one of our Portland friends, one who hadn’t been able to come, had sent us a link to a how-to website that had given very good and explicit instructions on one method of killing the chicken and instructions on gutting it as well.  I had found a YouTube video that did much the same thing, though with a different killing method.  Another website had offered an outrageous sounding procedure. And the good Transylvanian woman had suggested a different method.  So we had five basic methods to choose from:

    1.  Hit it on the head to knock it out.  Then either take it’s head off or bleed it out.  (Website #1)
    2.  Find it’s jugular vein just under its chin and slice it.  (YouTube video)
    3.  With the chicken on your lap, grab it by the head and yank hard, dislocating its neck. (Outrageous website)
    4.  Pinch the carotid artery in its neck until it fell unconscious, and then chop. (Transylvanian lady)
    5.  While still alive, chop its head off. (Commonly known, that’s what everyone knows about chicken killing method)

We had all looked at the website of #1, so we decided to go with that method. 

I guess that I’m being a little inexact with that method description though.  Hit it on the head needs a little more detail.  You can’t just hit it with a hammer.  They move too much and there would be a real chance of hitting yourself or the other person holding the chicken.  So, this method had you grasp the chicken by the feet, twirl it around at full force and then bring the chicken’s head down on something solid, like the edge of our table.

And so, I was the first one up
tafeanorn: (Default)
This is the first time I’ve done this, and I not going to make a habit out of it, but in this case, I think it’s appropriate.  I’m crossposting this post to both my personal blog and my historical recreation blog.  Just so you know....

Remember a few posts ago when I talked about reading the Golden Bough ( http://tafeanorn.dreamwidth.org/111854.html ) and mentioned that it was listed in the Call of Cthulhu RPG book as causing a loss of sanity?  That’s silly, right?  Books don’t drive you crazy.  They don’t make you do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do.  Right?

Oh, but that is the power of books, isn’t it?  To teach.  To inspire.  And that is exactly what it did.  Inspire me.  ::insert maniacal laughter::

But, back to beginning of the story.  I finished pulling all of the weeds -- my nemeses, the ivy, the dandelions, and especially the European Buttercups -- and was thinking I was done preparing the field.  But then I realized two things, that the ground was a little hard and that the weeds were coming back very fast.  So, instead of just going after the weeds as they pooped up, I decided to take the shovel to the whole field again.

Not double digging this time.  That took too long and was too much work to do every year.  And plus, it may have made my weed problem worse.  No, this time my bright idea was to single dig -- just scoop up dirt, turn it over and rake it back in the hole.  But as I raked, I made a strong effort to pull out any roots or creeper vines that were in there.  The raking actually wound up being the hard and time-consuming part of the operation.  I pulled out tons of roots and vines, at least 6 wheelbarrow loads of them.  It took just about a month, working in 1-2 hour sessions, 2-4 sessions per week.  Estimate it at about 18 hours for my 750 sq. feet.

I also soil-tested the ground, and it came back as being very low on nitrogen.  So I added some fertilizer.  Anyone who’s interested about the fertilizer, I’ll make that a sperate post.

And I picked a crop.  I decided on winter red wheat and winter spelt.  They both recommended being planted by October 15th.  The 15th happened to be a Saturday, so I aimed for that day as my planting day.  So far so good.

But then a friend of mine, Kelsey, started talking to me about The Golden Bough, especially about the animal sacrifices.  We had talked before about wanting to go through the process of killing an animal, butchering it and eating it, and so, one thing led to another and we decided that the two of us (and probably my wife, but she hadn’t actually been asked at this point) would get together on Oct. 15th and have a little planting festival.  We’d kill a chicken, plant some wheat and spelt, cook, and probably drink a lot of mead.

And we’d probably dribble the chicken blood in the field and say a few words to the grain spirits about giving us a good harvest.

Now, I’m not religious, not religious at all.  I don’t really believe that there are grain spirits or that Jupiter or Ceres or Horus are looking after my field or the fertility of my field.  But, perhaps just because of that, I am very curious about religion, about feeling some connection with the absolute or the hugeness of the universe.  My roleplaying game is largely about playing immoral characters in a moral world and the paradoxes and punishments that go along with that.  I’m also very interested and respectful of traditions and rituals.  So I wanted to try and get a little of that from this planting party. 

And then Kelsey and I told another friend, Layla, about our little get together and she wanted to come.  And then Kelsey’s boyfriend wanted to come.  And then Layla’s boyfriend and another mutual friend.  And my wife thought it would be a hoot.  She mentioned it to some of her friends in Portland (200 miles away) and they thought it sounded like fun, so three of them made plans to drive up.  Before I knew what hit me, my little 2-3 person get-together and mushroomed into a nine or ten person party.

And it totally stressed me out.  The entire week leading up to it I was a basket case, just going over the plan, marshaling all of the little details of food, snacks, prep work and that kind of thing.  But also, what was I going to say.  What kind of a little ritual was I going to put on over my field.  That was where the major anxiety was.

Thursday morning, I realized what I was really stressing over.  It wasn’t so much the performance anxiety of getting in front of all of those people and talking.  It wasn’t that I was worried about my talk being inaccurate.  Messing up the logistics wasn’t really the thing that was bothering me.  Oh sure, all of those things were on my mind, but they weren’t what was causing the lion’s share of the stress. 

It was the the idea of opening myself up to these people.  Of coming right out and saying, “This is the crazy stuff that interests me and this is what I think about it.  This is where I am when my eyes glaze over and I’m spacing out.  This is the special place I go when the real world is being too difficult to take and I need a few minute vacation.  I go to a 6th Century, Northern European farm.”

And once I realized that thoughts such as these were the ones getting me all anxious, it was a lot easier to deal with and the stress greatly decreased.  And that was good.

Kelsey and I came up with the basic menu for the day.  We’d get three chickens and turn one into soup, bake one fairly simply with rosemary and oil packed in under its skin and the third would have a wine and apricot glaze and be served over pasta.  Yes, I know, not 6th Century, but the purpose of the day wasn’t to be perfectly realistic.  It was to have fun first, and then to get a glimpse into what life might of been like a millennia ago in Europe, or even just get an idea what life would be like in rural parts of the world today.

Christine, my wife, added a summer sausage, cold-cuts and cheese platter to the menu while we were getting set up and that was a great addition.  I made two different kinds of bread.  There was mulled mead and raspberry wine.  There was supposed to be a wheat berry salad, but that got canceled.  There was a green salad planned, but we forgot about it in the heat of the moment and it’s still in our fridge.  Gwynn and Jon from Portland brought sour apple cupcakes which were a big hit.  I think we went through something like three dozen of them.

None of us had any idea how or where to get live chickens, so I made a posting on Craigslist.  I only got one response, but it was from a nice enough sounding Eastern European immigrant family not too far away from our house here in the suburbs.  I made an appointment to meet them Saturday morning at 10:00 am.

I took most of Friday off of work.  There was still a lot of work to be done.  There was still a 3’ x 8’ section of the field that hadn’t been turned over.  I hadn’t fertilized yet, or made furrows (I decided that I would try to plant the wheat and spelt in rows this year, to make the continued weeding and harvesting a little easier).  I needed to grind grain into flour for the bread.  There was last minute cleaning to be done.  My daughter, Becca, had an appointment to take her driving test in order to get her driver’s license.  The Portland folks would be arriving.  I still had to figure out what I was going to say in front of the field and the chickens.  And my desktop computer, the one that I was doing all of the layout of Ellis on, had died the week before, and the replacement was due to arrive on that Friday.  So, it was a busy day.

We managed to get nearly everything done.  Furrows didn’t get made and only about half of the flour got ground.  Becca failed her driving test and was extremely disappointed about it, but handled it very well.  There was a lot of “Just let me do one more thing involved in setting up the new computer, and while it’s processing, I’ll do other work.”  But even with that nearly everything got done.

Doug, Jon and Gwynn arrive a little after 8:00 pm and we ran out to our favorite Mongolian grill for dinner before they closed.  There was much joking about the day-to-come’s festivities and everyone seemed to be looking forward to it. 

Which I guess still surprises me.  I suppose it shouldn’t.  Maybe that’s the lesson that I really need to take away from this whole experience is that I’m not as alone as I think I am and that if I was actually to share what I think and feel, other people would actually find it interesting.  ..............  Actually, that is the lesson I’m going to take away from this and do my best to keep it to heart, because it is a valuable and important lesson.
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My birthday was last Wednesday and had a great time.  I turned 42 and had a really nice time.

I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I have pretty much everything I want, so presents are a hard thing to come up with, but somehow, they just aren’t the big deal that they used to be.  My parents bought me a few books off of my Amazon list.  One of them, _Lifehacker_, is a collection of ideas to change your life and make it better, and I’m already loving it.  There’s good stuff there and I’ve only flipped through it.

Among Chris and I, we’ve been trying to give experiences more than things.  They’re often more expensive, so they make kind of ‘wow’ presents, they don’t clutter up the house, and they’re usually experiences for more than one person, so they’re double or triple presents.  So for my birthday we went to see a play, _An Ideal Husband_ by Oscar Wilde at the Taproot Theater, around the corner from my work.

Wednesday, the day of my actual birthday, was kind of a crappy day.  I blew out a brand-new tire on the way to work by scraping it along the curb while parking, and then the internet was down for most of the day at work, which meant no credit card processing.  I got to hang out with Erik, who is doing the map for Ellis after work, and that seems to be coming along.  Dare I hope for the end of the month?  But I waited too long and got caught in traffic going home.

But I got the tire replaced and made it home.  Talked to my parents and open their presents -- thanks again guys! -- and then opened a present from Chris that was in addition to the theater tickets.  Two bottled of Pinnacle vodka, one cake flavored and the other whipped cream flavored.  Wow!  What an awesome present!  Inexpensive, perfectly-tailored to my likes and habits, long-lasting.  Every time I have a drink for the next couple of months, I’ll think of her (and maybe longer, since I did not know those flavors existed).  I didn’t get to drink any that night; we spent the rest of the evening relaxing in front of the computer.

Thursday was a long day a work, with birthday dinner out with a bunch of friends afterward.  12 people showed up and we had a great time.  Thanks everyone for a great night out.  We went to a pizza/Italian place next door to work and I think half of us ordered the ‘Boat of Cheese’.  It was a little bland for my tastes, but very filling, which was what I wanted.  We talked some games at dinner, and more on the way out, but later, as I was walking to the car, I noticed a friend sitting by himself in a different restaurant, and went in to say hi.  We wound up talking games for nearly an hour.  Much fun!

Luckily, I took Friday off, since I didn’t get to bed until almost 1:00 am.  So I slept late, played in the garden, worked on Ellis and generally hung out.  A pretty mellow day.  Becca came home very upset because a party that she was going to on Saturday got moved to Friday.  We talked about it for a while and we worked out a plan to get her there that night, even though it would mean skipping the play.

So we went out to Mexican food that night, looked at MLPs at Toys R Us and then took Becca to her party, before Chris and I continued on into the city for our play.  Conversations beforehand (and afterwards) got a little serious, but not in a bad way, and managed to make the night even better.  The play itself was fabulous.  The first two acts a little slow, but plenty witty, and the third and fourth acts riotously funny and deeply moving.  I actually teared up twice.

Saturday was also fairly mellow, me feeling like I was fighting off a low-level crud.  But I got chores done, worked on Ellis some, and got to play City of Heroes for a bit.  Dinner was homemade chicken soup which made the house smell wonderful.  Cheesy movie night was Zoom: Academy for Super Heroes, which was terrible.

We made two different drinks for the night, both featuring the new vodka.  I started with a recipe off of Pinnacle’s website, but didn’t like the taste, so I added some syrup which made all of the difference.  Chris talked me into adding cupcake candy sprinkles as a garnish, which was also a very good touch.  Here’s the final recipe for my new favorite drink:

1.5 oz Cake-flavored vodka
1.0 oz Whipped cream flavored vodka
1.5 oz Half & Half
1.0 oz Simple syrup
Garnish with candy sprinkles

Chris’ drink was:

4.5 oz ChocoVine
1.0 oz Whipped cream flavored vodka
1.5 oz Half & Half


Today starts a long stretch of extra hours at work, and hopefully catching up on a lot of little things at work.  I’m looking forward to getting everything ship-shape for the upcoming holidays, but not to being there as much as I will be.  But oh well, it won’t be any worse than the multiple shifts I was working this time last year,  :)
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I’ve been listening to the audio book (from LibriVox) version of the 1922 edition of this classic book and finally finished it earlier this week.  Fabulous.

I first heard about this book back in high school, when I was playing the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.  It was the only ‘real’ book on the list of Cthulhu Mythos books that would actually teach your character something about the evils secret alurk in the world.  It was also the one that taught you the least.

But ever since then, this book has held a special place in my imagination.  Once, on a trip to California (the first trip to meet my then-fiancée’s family) I found an early copy of the 12(?) volume edition in a used book store for several hundred dollars.  I wanted it.  I might have even bought it if our car hadn’t died to the tune of $900 a few days earlier.  I’ve looked ever since for another set like that and have never seen one.

So when I found that there was an audio copy available on LibriVox, even though it was the 1922 abridged edition, I couldn’t help myself but to download and listen to it.  Even though it was 42 hours long.  But really, when was I going to get 30+ hours to read it?

It is a great book, one that I wish I’d read years ago.  What is is about?  A little hard to say, because most of the book is actually tangents, sections that support his argument, but only in a “You think I’m crazy for saying that people would would actually do this?  Well, these people, halfway around the world, _do_ think that, so my idea is that far-fetched.”  Not proof, but proof-in-concept.

So what’s it about?  The basic thesis is to look at the Roman religious rites recorded as happening at Nemi, outside of Rome and mentioned in Virgil’s Æneid, then to try and piece together what those rites meant to the Romans and where those beliefs had come from, trying to trace them to their Indo-European roots.

And, in the process, examine aboriginal religious rites from across the world -- North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Melonesia, Africa, Asia, everywhere.

It’s way too much for me to try and summarize here, but there were lots of fun stories, interesting customs and beliefs, and insightful examination of some well-known as well as some obscure myths.  It’s a great resource for world builders, fantasy/historical authors and roleplayers.

I’ve been listening to it in the car and while working in the garden, preparing my wheat field for planting.  And that has been the best part, tearing up weeds, digging, and readying my plot for planting while listening to accounts of old harvest festivals, hearing about planting sacrifices and guarding spirits or divinities that watch over the earth’s bounty.

Since then, I’ve listened to some shorter books: Einhart’s _Life of Charlemagne_ and Tacitus’ _Germania_.  I also tried to listen to the _Lays of Marie de France_ but the reader’s were so bad, I couldn’t go through with it.
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Becca stayed out late Thursday night, and was in no mood to wake up Friday morning.  Chris and I had breakfast together and we could see out the window that there was some sort of street fair getting set up.  We decided not to push Becca into joining us for the day, and I think that was a good call.  Today was going to be an adventure.

So we woke her up long enough to throw some croissants at her and ask her if she wanted to go.  She declined, but nommed the pastries.  We set off to explore the town taking Bjarni with us.

Have I mentioned Bjarni?  I don’t think so.  Becca bought him in one of our first ports, Oslo or Kristiansand as a gift for one of her friends.  But somehow, she or Chris decided it would be neat if Bjarni was well traveled and if a log could be kept of all the places Bjarni went.  So ever since, everywhere we go, Bjarni comes to and either gets posed for pictures in famous places or photobombs pictures of scenery.  That sort of thing.  So we took him with so that he could get photoed in Stavanger.

Stavanger was a larger town and was pretty nice.  We walked along the waterfront, through the Taste of Stavanger that was setting up.  Our journey took us to the local cathedral, where Bjarni got his picture taken and to a duck pond, where Bjarni posed with ducks.  There was an information center across from the church, and we got directions to the Farm: bus stop 44, take the #4 bus.

The thing I didn’t ask was when to get off of the bus.  We talked to the bus driver, and he seemed to know where we were going, but his English wasn’t great.  He said he’d let us know when it was our stop. 

The map we had was good for 2.5 km from the town center.  I followed our route until we left the map and then we were entirely in his hands.  An adventure, right?  We went through a single lane tunnel (it did have a traffic light) and off into the rural hills above the town.

He called us up to the front of bus and said we were almost there, but then seemed unsure where to drop us off.  Finally he decided, and seemed to drop us off, not at a real stop, but just by the side of the road.  He did indicate where the return bus stop was, which was a help.

Or maybe it wasn’t.  Because both Chris and I got the idea that the Farm was across the street and down a side road.  So we went that way.  There were farms, an experimental farm run by the university growing spelt and other grains, and a dairy farm.  The road we followed let to a trail head, and then to a rural road with access to the farms and other houses.  We went down that way for a while, getting nice views, when luckily we ran into a woman and her son, who we asked directions from.

She pointed us back to the crossroads where the bus had dropped us off.  So we went back.  There were two directions left to try, and so we tried the downhill way, toward the university.  The road seemed to go along a field with a standing stone on it, but it was fenced off with no signs.  We came to a bus stop with three or four college students there.  I asked again.  Two of them had no idea and the third though it was back the way we came and around the corner.

So, back to where the bus dropped us off and down the road in the forth and final direction.  By this point we were both pretty tired, the sky was spitting on us and there was no Iron Age Farm in sight.  A long block in that direction and we decided to give up.

I was devastated.  I had wanted to go here so bad.  I had been reading about it for months, posting to Facebook about it.  I changed my home computer’s wallpaper to a picture of the Farm.  But what else could we do?  We were lost.  None of the locals seemed to know where it was.  Giving up seeped the thing to do.

And then I had an idea.  The main listing in the guidebook did not have an address listed for the Farm, but I knew I had seen one somewhere.  So I looked through all of my paperwork and finally found it in an advertisement alongside the map that they’d given us at the tourist office.  It listed the address as Ullandhaug 75, and there, right across the street where we had been standing a minute ago, were Ullandhaug 69 & 67.  So we had to be close.

Chris said she’d give it one more try, but that I owed her.  That was fine.  We walked back across the street and downhill a ways and then came to a gate leading into a field.  You couldn’t really see the field because of the lay of the land, but we figured that this must be the place.  But still, there was no sign, no iron age, turf covered houses, no guides.  We let ourselves through the gate, kept going, with a bit of trepidation, wondering if we were just in someone’s yard.

The present

Aug. 2nd, 2011 11:04 am
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It’s been a long week since I got back from the trip to Europe, which is why I haven’t quite caught up with posting pictures and the final bits of my blog.

First there was a lot of work.  A half day (thanks to Kayce) the day we got back.  A full day the next.  And two eleven-hour days (plus an early day when I dropped the girls off at the airport).

I was still feeling exceedingly tired and jet-laggy, which is no surprise, so I decided to take it easy over the weekend.  I did some work in the garden, or should I say my grain field.  It was harder work than I anticipated -- because I have ignored it all spring it was (and still mostly is) a tangled mess of ivy vines and European Buttercup creepers.  Tearing those out left me tired and sore.

So after a good, long nap and some cleaning up around the house, I settled down to read Dance of the Dean by Lincoln and Child.  I stayed up too late reading it, and had to get up early the next morning.

I had a bunch of stuff to do in the morning and from the very start of the day I could tell it was going to be a bad allergy day, with eyes and nose both running uncontrollably.  Grocery shopping (including allergy meds, because we were out), making food, cleaning and tidying.  I got that all done so I could meet Ali for breakfast on my way down to the airport to pickup the girls.  We had a nice talk and I got to hear all about ComicCon.

I picked up Chris and Becca at the airport and it was very good to see them.  I got to hear all about their trip and Becca couldn’t stop talking about how great it was.

I got a nap when we got home and woke up from that badly and basically spent the rest of the day reading, staying up late so that I could finish the book.  It’s been a long time since I’ve gone on a reading binge like that.  But I’m really enjoying getting back into reading and I’m going to keep it up.  So I started the sequel...

Monday morning came too early, but at least my allergy symptoms had left.  I was greeting by a text message saying that a good friend was at the ER, which was not a happy thing and worried me quite a bit until I finally heard that everything was okay.  I started getting caught up with all of my web-mastering work for Gary’s Games (which I just now finished) and then drove down to Seattle to meet Layla for lunch.

We met at a great Thai place, and it was such a nice day that I insisted we sit on the patio.  That was a mistake, as it turned out, because we were there for four hours and I sunburned something crazy.  My arms are bright red and painful to bend.  Despite that, we had a very nice time, people watching in Fremont, and talking about pretty much everything.

Afterwards, I came home and went driving with Becca for a about an hour, which was fun, although she wasn’t in a very talkative mood.

Coming home, I made my homemade chicken strips that everyone loves and then settled in to catch up on some of the shows we recorded while we were away.  We watched two episodes of Expedition Impossible, both of which got me surprisingly emotional as two teams actually helped out and made sacrifices for other teams for no other reason than kindness and friendship.  You don’t see that often in a Mark Burnett show.

Becca tried to get me to go to bed at 11:00, but I had gone back to my book and was stubbornly not giving into sleep because I was enjoying it so much.  I stayed up way too late and got up way too early, but now I should have most of my chores done by Noon and can get a good nap in.  Before the end of the day you should see one or two more blog posts about the Europe trip and some of our pictures starting to show up.

Now if I can only get some work done on Ellis.... 
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Thursday -- Flam and Viking Valley

When we woke up, we were already in port.  Chris and I got up and went to the Lido for breakfast as usual.  There were nice mountains out of the window, but nothing special.  When they announced that they were ready for us to disembark, we figured we’d step off, look around and see what there was to see before waking up Sleeping Beauty.

But when we stepped off of that gangway we were both stunned.  We’d eaten on the wrong side of the ship.  Here we were, at sea level, looking up and towering peaks 1200 meters above us, with spectacular waterfalls pouring down the mountainside, trees and flowers clinging to the steep walls, a cave tucked into the cliffside.  Absolutely beautiful.

And the town, at the cruise terminal, wasn’t a 100 year-old fishing village with run-down whitewashed shantys.  It was a tourist center, with a brewery, luxury yet low-key hotels, and lots of souvenir shops.  But they were all newly built, clean and beautiful to look at.

We went through all of the gift shops and then decided that we’d better go back for Becca, but not before standing on a bridge that went over the river feeding into the fjord.  The water was _so_ clean, so fast and cool and refreshing-looking.  So green, not from algae, but from the greenish-yellow stones that lined its bed.  The bridge was a little older and worse-for-wear, shaking whenever a car drove across it, but that water was so nice.

We went back on board and made Becca get up.  She did so reluctantly.  We wandered the shops again, and she kind of enjoyed that, but was back in her Oslo mood about not wanting to buy anything because she might find something better, but wanting to buy something because she might not find anything better.  She wanted a stuffed animal wolverine, but it was kind of spendy (even for Norway) and eventually she decided to skip it.

I though, found a gorgeous sweater/jacket that was almost exactly what I was looking for (one of my goals was to find a Norwegian sweater).  It was expensive, and eventually, after checking in all 6 or 7 shops found the shop that had for the lowest price and decided to go for it.  I’m sure none of my friends will like it, but :P  I do.

We took a little sightseeing tour for 45 minutes through the local countryside.  Lots more gorgeous scenery.  Very cramped spaces in the little fake train pulled by a tractor, that were hard on my legs.  We took lots of pictures, a lot of which didn’t turn out, but we had fun.  I think even Becca did.

After that, our plan was to go to the brewery for lunch.  It was super expensive (like everything, but especially food, in Norway) at 225 krone ($45) / person for a smorgasbord barbecue.  But when we got there they weren’t doing it.  I’m still not sure why, but we were too stunned (again) to ask.

The building was obviously a new construction, but it was done in the style of an old, Scandinavian stave church.  It was called the Æsir Brewery, and was all wood and reindeer hide cushions and antler chandeliers with a fantasy-medieval flair that was gorgeous.  We took lots of pictures.

Chris and Becca decided to retire after that and I, like the day before, decided to stay behind.  I took a tour bus through two 5-kilometer tunnels to Gundavag, where the Viking Village was.  Now, we had first seen a poster about this place in Oslo, a week or more before.  But I had noticed one of the tour vendor here had an excursion there and had tried to talk the others into it, but they weren’t up for it, so I went alone.

I napped on the 15 minute bus ride there.  There were two tourist shops there and a restaurant with a Viking theme -- long tables and embroidered chairbacks.  There was a small hotel with Viking-themed rooms -- swords and shields above the beds, artwork, that kind of thing.

The reenactment itself was across the bridge on a island.  They had a recreation of the Osberg ship (from the Oslo ship museum) and out in front of it was a guy very nicely dressed in period clothes and mail.  The village then had its own gift shop, where I bought myself a pair of bone dice, a wool-felt dice bag and a t-shirt for Chris.

I then gave the girl at the counter my ticket and she told me that the tour had already started.  I didn’t realize I got a tour, so I said that I didn’t mind joining the one in session. Karl, our guide, was good and he knew his stuff.  He gave the easy answers and then also talked about the controversies and questions because there is so little actual, reliable information about the Dark Ages.  He went so far as to criticize most of the tents at the park, because they were probably being used out of context.

And he obviously loved it.  His love of the period was clear in the care he gave to give accurate answers and to point out when he was making a conjecture.  His costume was awesome and took great pride in it,

But at the same time, I also got the strong idea that this was _his_ thing and he was talking about it because he had to or was asked to, or maybe even because he thought we might learn something.  But he didn’t think we would come to love it, or share his joy in it. 

Anyway, I had a good time, but not a great time, and soon it was time to get back to the ship.  The bus ride back was hellish, over-crowded, standing room only, with lots of over-tired children.  I made a swing back through the one souvenir shop and bought Becca the wolverine she wanted and got back on the ship. 

The girls had been planning to go to an origami class at 5:00 pm and it was 5:30 now, so I wasn’t sure if they’d be ready, but I walked by our regular Settlers table and there they were, just getting set up.  They both liked their presents and Becca really liked my dice and wished I had gotten her some.

We ate dinner that night together, and then Becca ran off to do teen things.  She wouldn’t get back until after we both had gone to bed.  I finished by second book of the cruise and settled in to get sleep for the next day which would be Stavanger and the place I’ve been dreaming of going for months: the Ullandhaug Iron Age Farm.
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They had announced the night before that we would be arriving an hour or so late in Alesund.  That didn’t affect us, since we had no plans.  I woke up before everyone else, and showed up at the spa just as it opened.  The mineral bath was under repair, which was too bad, so I just was on the heated beds for 90 minutes or so, reading my Bernard Cornwell.

When I emerged from there, I ran into Chris at the pool deck and we ate breakfast together while we watched the ship pull into the harbor.  The town was very picturesque, having been re-built after a fire in 1902 or 1906.  It was re-built, not quickly and cheaply like so many others we’ve seen, but in a style that everyone there calls Art Deco, but that I would describe as Victorian re-imaginings of the historic past.  Lots of grey stone.  Tall, pointed, coppered roofs, dramatic arched doorways.  Cobbled streets with patterned stones.  Iron railings and balconies. Very pretty.

While we ate, we found out about a neat looking local attraction to try and see in the guide book: The Sunnemore Museum.  It was primarily an exhibit of rural architecture for the last 150 years, but the description in one of the guidebooks mentioned a Medieval Museum with it.  It was in a neighboring town, so it was going to be an adventure to get there.  And adventures are problematic, but we decided to give it a try.

We went down to our stateroom, woke up the girl and disembarked.  A block from the cruise terminal was a tourist office, so we went there and, after waiting in line for a while, I asked about getting to the museum.  She said it was easy (and that could have worried me, but it didn’t, I’m so trusting . . .) to take a bus and scoffed at me when I suggested taking a cab.  She had also just called a cab for the couple in front of me in line, and it was looking like a long wait to get one.  So all we had to do was walk to the bus station by the town hall, catch a 618 bus, and get off just after the bridge and we would be at the museum.

We had trouble finding the town hall.  We kept walking, following the direction the tourist office woman had pointed, and following her landmark (“by the construction”).  The big grey building we thought it must be turned out to be a shopping mall, but when we stepped out on the other side we saw a 618 drive by.  We followed it and got to it before it left the stop (there were _a lot_ of tourists trying to get on).  I did the smart thing and asked to make sure it went to the museum and the driver said that it did not.

Phew.  Close call.  Mistake avoided.

He had pointed back the way we came and said that we needed a stop on the other side of the street, a bus going in the opposite direction.  So we went back that way.  By now, the confidence that we could do this was waning and Becca was very frustrated and anxious.

We went around one more corner and could see off in the distance a group of shelters with benches.  That looked like what we wanted.  It was harder to get there than we thought, it being across a very busy street and there were few places to cross it.  But we got there, and there was even a 618 there waiting for us.  We climbed on, making sure that it was the right bus, and took seats.

The drive was nice with a great view of the fjord.  Our stop was easy to find and we walked down a long driveway to the museum. 

It was fabulous, with one of the best gift shops we’d seen so far.  They had a small exhibit on stone- and iron-age tools that was very nice.  There were some impressive gold armrings and two sword blades.  There was also an exhibit about rural dress in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

After the exhibits we wound up in the gift shop, where Chris and Becca both bought ice cream.  I got a coffee and a neat cinnamon pastry that tasted as good as it looked. 

We walked through the rest of the grounds of the outdoor museum on our way to the Medieval longhouse exhibit.  There were quite a few neat buildings all clustered around the shore of a large pond.  One of them was a small water-powered grain mill, that looked like it fully-operational (except that it wasn’t near any running water).  It was a huge thrill for me; I took lots of pictures. 

The Medieval museum was a large rectangular structure built over the excavation of a 12th Century longhouse.  There was just foundation left, with a lot of old timbers from which you could kind of imagine what the old house looked like.  But not really.  A walkway went around the perimeter of the excavation and it had a bunch of informational displays along it.  Talking about medieval life, the history of the settlement there, that kind of thing.

There was also a boat exhibit, that had a replica Viking ship and they were giving rides in a 19th C. fishing boat.  But we didn’t do that.  We spent a lot of krone in the gift shop.  Chris got the Thor’s Hammer pendant that she was on a mission to find on the trip -- a beautiful bronze one that she later got a nice leather braided necklace for.

We caught the bus back with no problems and walked back to the ship.  I let Chris and Becca re-board while I stayed in town for a while.  I had thought about going out to one of the islands where there was a Norman church and where Rollo, the founder of the Duchy of Normandy, was born, but it was a long way and the church was closed for restoration.  So instead I got a walking tour map of Alesund.

The tour wasn’t actually all that interesting, so I just wandered.  I was idly looking for an authentic Norwegian restaurant, but in that quest I would be unsuccessful.  I did find a neat church, a friendly cat, a glassblowers and best of all, an antique store.  Mostly what they had was turn of the century prints, housewares and maritime items, but they had a huge selection and I spent well over half an hour in there.

I met the girls for more Settlers.  Dinner was delicious, and I think I’m addicted to those strip steaks.  But we were all tired, me especially from the late night the night before and all of the extra walking, so we called it an early night.
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So . . . it’s been a few days since I last blogged and time to catch up.  Except that I don’t really have time to do too much, because we’re in the process of docking at Stavanger, which is home to the not-so-world-famous Iron Age Farm, which, after the experiences of the last two weeks, will probably be a disappointment, at least to level I had built it up to be before we left the United States.  But we will see, I’m still going and it’ll still be fun, and I will bust my butt to get it posted tomorrow.

But I’m actually supposed to be talking about Tuesday, which was a day at sea.  We slept in, which means getting up at 8:00 instead of 7:00, though Becca did not wake up until much later.  We breakfasted and then hit the spa for a nice morning relaxation.

At lunchtime they had an ice-carving exhibition on the pool deck and barbecued salmon and halibut.  Becca finally crawled out of bed and joined us there and then immediately wandered off again to do teen stuff.

Chris and I both went to a presentation about Viking history that was surprisingly well-attended, but the lecture itself was weak historically and even more poorly presented.  But the powerpoint presentation worked, with no problems setting it up or keeping it going, which may be the first time I’ve ever actually seen that happen.

Chris and I split up, she going to a presentation and low-key sales pitch on amber, while I went to my second mixology class with Dr. Love.  We made dacqueris, margaritas and south Seas navigations.  Plus then, he talked about dry martinis and dry manhattans, and so we all had to sample those.  He told more off-color jokes and did some magic tricks.  The small group of us had a great time.

The old people then took a nap, squeezed in a game of Settlers and went to the formal night dinner (although we dressed down for it).  More nice, pleasant talking.  We’re going to have to find a way, once we’re back in the real world, to find time to dine and get some couples-only time.  That may be a challenge, but it’s something I’d really like to figure out how to do.

Becca was busy playing video games and we weren’t tired yet, so we went up to the Crow’s Nest and hung out.  Chris blogged, which I should have done too, but instead I read, because I’d hit that “unable to put it down” point in my book.  We stayed until Midnight, and since the sun was still out, we both thought it was a lot earlier.
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Today is Monday, so that must mean we’re in Hammerfest!

The maneuvering to bring the huge cruise ship into Hammerfest harbor began about 6:00 am this morning, and at least in our tiny, interior cabin in the bowels of the ship, all of that engine work was very loud and there was no sleeping through it.  At least for the adults, because Becca seemed to have no troubles.  The fact that she’d been out until about 3:00 am might have had something to do with it though.

So we were up and breakfasted by the time we were fully docked and approved to be let off of the ship.  We poked and prodded Becca enough to get her to say that she didn’t want to get up, and so Chris and I went off to enjoy Hammerfest alone.

We were one of the first ones off of the ship and there weren’t all that many other cruisers following after us.  Again, we were docked some distance from the town center, and the on-board announcements assured us that it was just a 15-20 minute walked, and actually asked us if those of us more able passengers would walk instead of taking up the limited seats on the shuttle bus.  But after our experience in Tromso, there was no way we were going along with that plan.

It was a sunny day, though there was a wicked sharp wind that would pick up and whip through the waterfront, driving before it dust and sand and grit that you couldn’t keep out of your hair or mouth.  So we got on the shuttle bus as soon as we could, only to be driven off of it just as quickly since it was one of the paid tour buses.  The shuttle bus arrived ten minutes later and we only filled up about half the seats.  So no harm done.

It was a very pretty drive along a narrow coastline with steep, rocky hillsides receding away inland.  There were houses built upon terraces that clung to those steep slopes.  Coating the grey stone, on every ledge or outcrop or small plateau, was a combination of green grass and moss.  I would have liked to get a good close look at the ground cover, but didn’t have the chance.  Perhaps if we’d walked I would have, but as we drove, it quickly became apparent, that this was no 15 minute walk, so we had learned our lesson well.

The bus dropped us off at the main tourist office and headquarters of the Royal Polar Bear Society.  Chris and I both joined the Order, which is essentially a tourist trap sort of affair designed to separate visitors from their krone, but they use the money to keep northern Norway clean and protect the native wildlife, so the money isn’t wasted.  Plus we got cool certificates and even neater lapel pins.

They also had a nice little museum that talked about local history and culture and had a large display of taxidermied local animals.  The gift shop was extensive and we spent quite a bit of time and money there.  It was good that we did too, because later in that day, when we came back to catch our bas back to the ship, the place was packed you could barely get in, let alone enjoy what was there.

From there we wandered around the town.  I had a nice conversation with a local craftswoman who was selling local flowers and plants that she had dried and arranged into nice little displays.  We found a book store that had the Viking Cookbook that I had regretted not buying back in Bergen, so I picked that up.  There were some wooden polar bear statues and we took some novelty photos with them.

Back on the ship, Becca still wasn’t awake, but we decided to do laundry and there was no way she could sleep through that.  While the clothes tumbled we got lunch and squeezed in a game of Settlers but then retired for a nice long nap once that was all done.

We got up just in time for happy hour, and had double drinks again while we played two more games of Settlers of Catan.  We’ve gotten to be regular enough that one of the waitresses knows us and will bring us our drinks in the library.  For some reason she started calling me “Sir Tim,” and I find I like that quite a bit.  :)

After Settlers we had dinner, which was a delicious London Broil steak in a creamy green peppercorn sauce, that I went and slathered over a pile of french fries.  So good.

Becca abandoned us for the teen room as quickly as she could after dinner, and Chris and I went down to the library and computered.  Then it was time for 60’s night in the casino.  I played poker and Chris hung out and tried to win prized in the raffle.  Neither of us had any luck -- no raffle winnings for her and I lost $60 at the poker table, most of it on one hand where I had JJ go up against AA.
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Sunday, Honningsvag

Honningsvag, the nearest settlement to the northernmost point in continental Europe, is north of the 71st parallel north, which is pretty far north.  For the first time in the cruise, the day was overcast and there was a cold breeze.  The town was . . . pretty much non-existent. 

Over breakfast I was forced to work.  I took my laptop and notebook and made lists of all of the used games that Kayce and Layla had been trying to buy over the last week.  It was a huge collection, but I made it through the list and was able to make an offer for them to pass along to the customer.  We were having internet problems though, so I didn’t get to send that e-mail until that evening.

There was a tourist shop right on the pier and we visited that and mailed postcards from there.  People back in the States should get postcards before we return . . . hopefully.  There was an indigenous peoples (the Sami) shop where Becca bought a reindeer bone on a leather thong.  And there was an ice bar. 

A large gift shop with a huge freezer in the back room filled with locally ‘mined’ river ice to form a large room coated and decorated with ice.  Bar made of ice, seats made of ice (with reindeer skin mat to sit on), tables made of ice, signs made of ice, an igloo made of ice that folks could crawl in.  I paid the $30 to go in and got my drink of watered down kool-aid in a glass . . . wait for it . . . made of ice.  It was kitschy, it was touristy, and it was fun.

So we came back to the ship and took a nap.  After that I went to the Thermal Suite (God, I love that place!) and relaxed for 90 minutes or so.  It was actually busy that day so I tried the steam room and the sauna.  I’ve never much cared for saunas, and this one didn’t change my mind.  The steam room was much the same, but more moist.  One thing that I really like about the place is that there is a cold misting shower that sprays scented water.  I asked what it was and they told me that it was scented with mint and camphor oils.

There was more Settlers of Catan and more mojitos.  I should probably squeeze one odd bit of information in here somewhere, and this seems to be as good as any place.  There has been a Bridge meet-up on the at sea days, but I haven’t gone to see how many people show up.  We have had one foursome steal our preferred Settlers table in the library.  There have been quite a few people playing Scrabble (in several languages!) and even one couple playing Carcassonne.  There have been many people stopping to work on the various jigsaw puzzles out on display.  Today we saw the first evidence that anyone else was sharing ‘our’ copy of Settlers.  But the most popular game on the cruise?  By far the winner is . . . Rummikub!  The ship has five or six copies of the game and I have not been in the library during sane hours and not seen someone playing it.  One night there were five simultaneous games going on!  That has been quite an eye-opener for me.

We ate dinner in the cafeteria and had plate after plate of prime rib . . . well, okay, only two plates of prime rib, but they were so good.  I’m so glad that there is no scale on the ship . . .

After dinner, Becca went to hang out with the teens (and there were actually a few this night) and I went down to the casino while Chris turned in early.  The poker game was very good and I quickly found myself up $20 or so playing 1/2 NL.  We had a 4th player join, and he was a much better player than the other two, and I quickly found myself on the losing side of two very large pots, which took my early lead away and left me $60 in the hole.  More careful playing over the next two hours brought me to exactly even after I gave the dealers a decent tip.  Despite the early losses, I felt triumphant at the recovery.

Becca and two other teens passed through the casino a little before Midnight, but she didn’t return to the room until long after I had gone to bed.  Needless to say, she would not be a bright and happy camper in the morning.  But that story will have to wait until tomorrow . . .
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Saturday in Tromso

Saturday was a fairly low-key day.  The ship pulled into the harbor while we were eating, which is always nice.  Have the scenery out of the large picture windows change as you eat your meal is very nice. 

Deep, wide, round-bottomed glacial valleys.  Layered sheets of grey-black bedrock jutting out of the sea.  Low-lying rocky clumps of land barley able to rise above the waves, covered with hardy grass and the occasional shrub.

There weren’t a whole lot of sight to see there, but we wanted to see the little town anyway.  Upon disembarking we just missed one of the shuttle busses transporting people into the center of town.  We were told that it was a pleasant 30 minute walk to the town center, or we could wait 30 minutes for the next bus.  Becca was impatient and the day was nice, so we decided to be adventurous and give the walk a try.

. . . . So it turns out that the ship did not dock where is usually does in Tromso, so instead of it being a “pleasant 30 minute walk” it turned out to be a long, foot blistering, 70 minute walk.  Not particularly scenic, but not grubby either.

By the time we got to center of town we were beat, and it was hard to really enjoy what Tromso had to offer.  But there were some neat things.  A big church square with a bunch of tents selling things flea-market-style.  We bought a few touristy things (a cute nesting doll for my mother, some post cards, etc.) and looked at a bunch of other stuff.

We took a cab back tot he ship and all pretty much collapsed in our cabin.  We slept quite a while and skipped the spa that day, concentrating instead on the ongoing Settlers of Catan tournament.  We did take advantage of Happy Hour, which is buy a drink and get a second one for a dollar, but the fine print is that you have to get two of the exact same drink.  And so, since I ordered a drink for me and a drink for Chris, we got four drinks.  Plus, Dr. Love remembered me from the mixology class, and showed me the love....  Needless to say, I’m losing the Settlers tournament.

We ate dinner in the dining room, and I had both venison and strip steak.  They’ve actually served the strip steak for the last three nights, and it has been so delicious, so delicate, so juicy . . . I can’t get enough of it.  I’d never really had venison before, and it didn’t impress me.  I don’t think I could have told the difference between it and beef if I’d been blindfolded.  Not that it was bad or anything, as you can tell, I love me the beef, but then, my taste buds are also sometimes called into question . . .

Then it was early to bed for us tired old folks.

Friday

Jul. 16th, 2011 11:40 am
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Friday

Friday was a sea day, so there were no stops.  The ship had a few things planned to entertain us, but actually fewer things than I would have expected.  Nevertheless, it was a fabulous day -- relaxing, mellow, and full of good talk and pleasant bonding.

We started the day off with breakfast and since there were actually teen events planned, Becca ditched us and went up to deck 14, the highest deck on the ship, to hang out with the teens.

Chris and I went to a demonstration of how to make animal shaped loaves of bread, which was something I was actually really interested in finding out more about, since my limited success with the bread bunny at Easter.  It wound up being very short, but he showed us how to make a turtle and a frog.

They were doing a tour of the sip’s kitchens at 10:30, so to kill some time, we checked in on Becca and saw that none of her stuff had actually started yet.  Chris went back to the room and grabbed the postcards, and I went off to the kitchen tour.

Which was packed!  I would guess that there were two hundred people (out of about 1200 passengers) crammed into the atrium of the main dining room.  I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and abandoned that plan, grabbing my laptop and finding Chris up in the Crow’s Nest.

I have to admit that I was feeling a bit intimidated by my blog.  I was two days behind and I knew that Bergen was going to be a _very_ long post.  But I hunkered down and got started and had them whipped up in about three hours.  We took a break for lunch and Chris went off to a towel folding class.  I finished up and got my blogs posted.  I had e-mail from work about those used games and had a horrible time getting one of the attachments to open up, but finally got it.  I’ll work on pricing those up and getting back to folks tonight hopefully.

I finished up just before 2:00 pm and went down to the casino to see if there was a poker tournament happening.  There was, so I sat down for that.  We had seven players and I wound up finishing in 4th place after trying to bluff someone out who had amazingly hit trips on the flop.  Oh well.

Chris met me there and then we went across to the martini bar where they were teaching a drink-making class.  I signed up for that while Chris went off to check on Becca.

The mixology class was a blast and there are two more scheduled that I plan to attend.  We made four drinks and while the teacher’s English was pretty bad, he was a ton of fun and insisted we call him Dr. Love, because he loved us so much as to use premium liquor and to put way too much of it in the drinks. 

The excitement of the class was when he was teaching us to use the Boston Shaker -- the metal cup and glass cup combo that fit together to shake up the drinks.  There’s this move to do to separate the the two cup where you get them just right against you hand and they release their hold on each other.  Well, the guy next to me hit them really hard and the glass cup shattered, throwing glass shards all over the teacher’s supervisor, who was standing there watching in his dress whites.

After that, Chris told me that she had gone up to The Loft to check on the girl, only to be told that she had gone back to the room because she was feeling  little seasick.  One her way back down to our room, she had come across one of the stewards cleaning up a puddle of sick in the hall.

So we went back down and saw our daughter, who was feeling pretty rotten and just wanted to sleep.  So we joined her and took a two hour nap.  I woke up first and took two loads of laundry down to the coin-op machines.  Once we  moved the wet clothes into the dryer, we went up for dinner, Becca decided just to stay in the room.

Dinner was fabulous: Beef Wellington and the most delicious strip steaks.  After dinner we retrieved our laundry and then went to the Thermal Suite.  And after that, drinks down in the library.  The whole time -- dinner, spa and drinks -- we talked.  We had talked on the first at sea day too, back on Monday, and this was a continuation of that and the big talk on the Thursday before we left. 

Good talk.  Relaxing talk.  Both of us really being able to express what we’re thinking and feeling.  Feeling very close.  Closer than we have in months, maybe longer.  Not perfect by any means, but we’re getting better, seeing improvement.  Being able to hope.

We decided to retire about 11:30 pm, but not before going up on deck to see the sun.  It was still above the horizon, behind some thin clouds that gave the whole sky a beautiful orange hue.  We took some pictures and turned on the date/time stamp so that we could prove we’d seen the Midnight Sun.

I had trouble sleeping, maybe too much napping (?), and so I got up again at 1:30 am and went up to the top deck to take more pictures.  Sun still up, still orange and gorgeous.  With some rocky crags of islands on the east horizon.  But I couldn’t enjoy it much, because it was 48° out with a 22 MPH wind that we were sailing directly into, so the effective breeze was about 40 MPH, and I had not grabbed a jacket.

Today is Tromso, but you’ll have to wait to hear about that . . .
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Thursday -- Bergen

I have to admit, I was pretty worried about Bergen.  After the trouble we’d had the day before in Kristiansand both with the town itself and with getting internet (which we still needed to do), I was envisioning a repeat of the day before.  But my fears were for naught, for Bergen had been the best stop of the trip so far.

We arrived in the town later in the morning than in previous ports, so we were able to see our approach as we ate breakfast.  Delicious food at the window while sailing under massive suspension bridges, alongside glacial-carved rocky islands, home to hardy evergreen tress and even hardier human habitations.  Expensive sailboats, blindingly white in the morning sun and wooden or rusted fishing boats squatting in the bay.

Over breakfast, we glanced over the map of Bergen the cruise ship had provided, and I noticed that there was something labeled “Leper Museum” and mentioned it in a joking voice.  It was pretty far from the harbor, but the seed had been planted.

Just off the boat, we got accosted by a salesman for one of the sightseeing buses, the same company we’d had in Oslo, and so we signed up right away.  Once again, there were lots of crazy drivers, narrow streets, and I’m sure we ran over a baby or two.  Becca wanted to go to the Natural History Museum and see the dinosaurs, and so we planned to come back to that. 

They talked us into getting off of the bus at the Old Town Hall because if we took the full round trip back to the boat, we’d have to wait at the boat for 30 minutes before the bus left again.  Since we were close, we walked to the Leprosy Museum.  It was closed, but was opening in 15 minutes or so.  We wandered the immediate neighborhood and found a pedestrian shopping street filled with restaurants, coffee shops and clothing shops.  They all had outdoor seating, and at one of them, Becca found free wifi, because we were still trying to upload her video, this time having transferred her 260 MB file to my lightweight netbook.

The Leprosy Museum was of more interest to the girls than to me, but it was still pretty interesting, mostly as an example of 18th and 19th Century “charity”, isolating these poor people in the name of public safety and then forcing them to work, all the while forbidding them the basic pleasures of human existence - love, friendship, kindness, hope.  The neatest thing about the place was the church, built in the first half of the 18th Century after one of the great fires swept through the city.

It was odd-shaped, a long nave with a huge wooden altar at one end.  The entrance from the hospital was from two small passages on either side of this giant altar backsplash.  Halfway up the nave where you’d expect a perpendicular gallery on both sides, there is one, but one on one side, the right as you’re facing the altar.  At the end of that gallery, is the main entrance to the courtyard. All along the nave and the gallery were pews, but they’re entrance from the isle was blocked by little gates, turning each row into its own semi-private section, complete with latch on the gate and number painted on the door.  All of it in hand-carved wood, dark with age.  Not pretty, really, but evocative of another age.  Pictures, of course, to come.

We went back to the pedestrian walk and got Becca set up transferring her video.  Chris and I got coffee at a health food shop/coffee house, and I also had a ham and cucumber sandwich on homemade spelt biscuit.  It was very good and I had forgotten that I actually kind of like cucumbers.  We were there for nearly an hour, and didn’t talk much, just did a fair amount of people watching.

The Leprosy Museum had given us coupons for both the Rosenkrantz Tower and something called King Haakon’s Hall.  The tower had been pointed out to us on the tour bus and it was between where we were now and the cruise ship, as was the major tourist shopping area and the Fish Market, so we headed in that direction.

Chris navigated us through the narrow streets and before long we were at the Fish Market.  Fresh fish and shellfish didn’t tempt me, but I almost bought a 3 pack of sausage -- reindeer, moose and whale -- but it was just too expensive.  There were lots of souvenirs, but surprisingly few Viking-related ones.  We found a few Thor’s Hammers, but none that were exactly what Chris wanted.

The Market led onto the waterfront street that was once the district of the Hanseatic League.  Many of the centuries-old building were restored and turned into tourist shops, complete with narrow, wood-plank streets and leaning walls held up with steel beams and construction jacks.  This section was really neat and very historical, but had more the feel of an old west town because of all of the wooden plank construction.  One of these shops, a silversmith, advertised a Viking re-enactment event that was going on.  I’d like to remember to go back and investigate that at some point:  vikingvalley.no

There was one shop there specializing in Viking kitsch, and we spent a lot of money there.  I got some Lewis Chess Set Piece keychains and should have bought the Viking cookbook, but only noticed it just as we were leaving.  There was a Viking longship candleholder that I probably should of bought too, especially because it was pretty close to 25mm scale and could have been used in gaming and $70 for something like that isn’t that overpriced . . .

By now, we only had an hour before we needed to be back on the ship, so we hurried a block over to the Rosenkrantz Tower.  It was a thick-walled late-Medieval keep and we all had a lot of fun climbing up and down the several narrow spiral staircases, exploring to dark passages and reading the small signs that explained what each room was used for.  On the top floors there was a large exhibit about medieval law and how the codes had been developed and changed over time.  The very top, the walk around the crenelated roof, was very narrow and somewhat crowded, so I didn’t spend a lot of time up there, but did give a good look to the fabulous slate roof that peaked up above the outer walkway.

A sign had said that King Haakon’s Hall was in the same complex, and we still had some time and a 50% off coupon, so we decided to give that a try.  And are we all glad we did!  That may be the highlight of the trip.

The hall was three stories, well with three floors, probably four or five stories tall.  The entrance was on the third floor, and entered into a large, open, rectangular . . . hall.  I paced it off, it was 100 feet from the back to the roped off section before the raised dies along the back wall, so probably 120 feet long.  Half or a third of that wide.  Along the far wall, on a raised platform, was a long table and chairs, the three in the middle high-backed and for the important people.  And this feature was built into the hall, as behind those chairs, in the wall, were arched recesses.

Higher up on that back wall (and on the opposite wall, as well), was a large, recessed stained glass window.  The base of the window was accessible (though roped off) through a pair of stairs in the corners of the hall that led into the wall and then out onto a balcony in front of the window.

The roof was a wonder to behold of beautiful, grand timberwork towering skyward.

Stairs led down to a series of corner-vaulted under chambers that are hard to explain, but which were a dozen or so (maybe fewer) of smaller room on two or maybe one and a half levels.  I took lots of pictures and I desperately want to make a 1 inch = 5 feet scale map of the place.

We were pretty worn out at this point and retired back to the cruise ship.  We were all desperately thirsty, and after a few drinks (I had two ginger ales back to back) Chris and I went th the Thermal Suite in the spa and Becca relaxed n the room. We got to watch the ship pull out of the harbor while sitting in the hot mineral bath and laying on the heated beds.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

Two more games of Settlers (and two Lemon Drops) later, we got dinner in the cafeteria, and since we were one of the last ones through the line as they were trying to close up for the night, they piled our plates high with steak, lamb chops and grilled tuna steaks.

Becca turned in after that, while I went to the casino.  I had run into the casino manager earlier in the day (we had chatted together for quite a while on that first night) and he had told me that they had managed to get a live poker game going that night before, so he had hopes for tonight.  They did, and I played $1/$2 NL Hold ‘Em for about an hour before getting too tired to go on.  I came out $15 ahead and had a really good time.
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Wednesday -- Or as I call it, Settlers of Catan Day

We had a mission in Kristiansand -- to find an internet cafe and upload Becca’s video project.  Have I mentioned that?  I think I did back on Day 2 when she finished editing it and showed it to us.  But, since it was done for a contest, it had to be uploaded to YouTube by the 19th. 

Kristiansand was not looking like it was going to have a bunch of stuff going on, so we decided to make that happen today.  There was also a neat mine/gemstone museum/theme park in the area that the ship wanted $110 per person to go to, so we also decided that if we could figure out a way to do that cheaper, we might give that a try.

So we got off of the boat after breakfast, about 8:30 am, and heading into Kristiansand. There were a couple of small problems right off the bat.  First, we were docked in the industrial part of town, and had to walk through some kind of scudsy terrain to get to down.  Also, once we got a nicer part of town, there was a bunch of construction going on, and that forced us along a narrow strip of dock that was a little precarious.  And then, Becca had insisted on bringing her huge gaming laptop with her, instead of my smaller netbook, so before we even made it into town, she had already given up on carrying it and it was handed off to me.

So these little problems had already put us into a bit of a negative mood, which even finding a neat display of professional sand sculptures couldn’t quite shake.  When we hit the town itself, we were dumped into more dingy waterfront.  We found an internet cafe that I had found online, but it out not to open until 10:00.

We almost gave up right then and there, but as a last try we wandered into a hotel and asked if there was a local tourist office.  They directed us three blocks over, which led us along a really nice pedestrian-only shopping street.  We found a toy store where Becca bought a Pokeball, and a bookstore that had their entire basement dedicated to boardgames.  I took some pictures of the games, and just to compare prices, that had a copy of Dominion for the equivalent of $60.

We got to the tourist office and determined that there was no reasonable way to get to the Mineral Park.  They did direct us to the local library where we could get internet.  They led us to the main square, which was a mess because they were setting up for the Tour de Norway to come through later in the day.  But we found the city library and Becca got setup to  upload her video . . . except that we couldn’t login.  You had to give them your cell phone number and they would text you a password to access the network.

Oh well, it was after 10:00 am by then, so we just went back to the internet cafe . . . which was still not open.  Don’t know why, but even 20 minutes after their posted opening time they were still closed.

At this point we were pretty frustrated, and just decided to get out of there.  We hailed a taxi to bypass all of the industry and construction, and got straight back to the ship.

And thus began the Settler’s Challenge.  We ‘settled’ down in the library and essentially stayed there for the rest of the day and played seven or eight games with the occasional break for a nap or for food.
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Tuesday -- Oslo

Tuesday started out as usual -- in the Lido cafeteria with bacon, grilled ham, sausage, and fried potatoes.  The difference today, was that we were parked in front of the Shlott Akerhus(?) -- a castle originally built in the 13th century, though rebuilt in the 17th -- and this was the view out of our breakfast window.

We had a fun conversation over breakfast with Becca about the differences between castle fortifications of different centuries.  In this one you could definitely see the old medieval portions as well as the star-shaped cannon bastions.  I even made a model of the fort out of folded Splenda wrappers . . .  until the steward cleaned them away.

We disembarked right after eating and quickly got offered an all-day pass on a tour bus.  The price was right -- 50 Euros for the three of us -- and it went to all of the places we wanted to see, plus drove all over the city.  We had to wait 20 minutes before the first one left, so that gave us time to browse some of the tourist shops right along the cruise ship terminal.  Lots of neat stuff -- all of it _extremely_ expensive.

Now if Chris thought the drive through den Bosch was harrowing, I don’t know how she made it through that bus ride.  Tiny little streets, lots of traffic, construction, many odd-shaped roundabouts.  Plus it was a double-decker bus and we were on top, which gave the impression that we were even closer to all of the obstacles. 

At one point we actually thought we hit someone, and the bus stopped and they turned off the engine.  Becca joked about that one episode of _The OCD Project_ where the woman kept thinking she had run over a baby.  That one became a running gag throughout the rest of the day...

I took lots of pictures as we drove through the city and eventually we found ourselves at the Viking Ship Museum, our primary goal for the day.  As far as museums go, it was a bit weak, only three exhibits really, as well as a few additional glass cases full of small artifacts.  But, man, those three exhibits were stunning.

Three real ships, a thousand years old, dredged up from the bottom of Oslo Fjord, sitting right there, honest to god, in the cruxiform museum building, built around those three ships; a temple, if you will, to the epitome of Dark Age military technology and the skill of the old Norse.

Chris and I were both stunned.  I mean, we knew months ago exactly what was in that museum.  We’d seen the pictures.  We’d read the descriptions.  We knew in our rational monkey brains the width and length of each ship. 

But it’s one thing to know those numbers and to see those pictures.  It’s something completely different to _see_ those ships.  To stand alongside one and marvel at the craftsmanship.  To see the cut of each axeblow in the wood, and know that every ship like this was unique, built without plans or books or blueprints or CAD designs; knowing that each ship sprang directly from the mind of one or a few men who had once lived and loved and built this ship, every bit as much a marvel of technology as the motorbus we’d just gotten off of or the cruise ship waiting for us to return or the 767 that would eventually take us home.  To know that if the guards weren’t there, you could grab ahold of the side and climb onboard, sitting on the decks where huge men had once sat and propelled that ship with the strength of their arms and courage of their hearts across that North Sea that we had just crossed in complete and utter luxury.  And that we, so proud of our learning and our technology and our science and our mastery of the world, would have seemed puny and weak and beneath contempt, because what are we without the trappings of the 21st Century?

We were in awe.  We squeezed in as close as we were allowed to peer at the woodwork and the nails and the immensity of that keel.  We climbed to the little balconies in the building, which allowed us to look down on the interior of the ship and see what the deck and the bilge were like and picture in our minds those men of courage who would have taken that ship to sea with only an inch of oak between them and a cold death.  We crowded around the steering oar, shielded from our grubby hands by plexiglass, and marveled at the engravings and the care taken upon its woodwork and knew that these people were somehow different than we, to put such care and attention in the decoration of a simple steering arm, an implement that to us was nothing but a tool, but to them was Important.

I took pictures.  I shot video.  In a way, I don’t know why.  It’s not like these things have never been photographed.  It’s not like a thousand other people haven’t posted pictures such as these to Facebook or Photobucket.  But somehow . . . somehow I hoped that _my_ pictures retained something of the feelings that I felt as I was taking them and that my pictures might mean more than somebody else’s.  I don’t know.

And Becca?  She hated it.  It was crowded and hot and we were just looking a bunch of old, rotting wood.  She wanted a souvenir which she saw as her right for having had to come to this uninteresting place; her bribe for putting up with the place.  But her choice seemed forced, like she was picking something to pick something, rather than choosing something she might actually want.  And we were still getting used to the money and it was expensive and we didn’t actually have any cash yet.

So we had a bit of a fight there out in front of the museum.  First about buying souvenirs and then, a few minutes later while I tried and failed to get us drinks, about the cruise itself and that she didn’t want to be here.  But Chris was very good with her, much better than I would have been alone, and soon we were back on the bus and laughing and joking.

We wandered around a bit in the downtown area.  Went to lots of touristy shops and bought lot of souvenirs.  All of them very expensive.  $1.50-3.00 a  piece for postcards.  $4 for a 16 oz. Coke.  $32 for a T-Shirt.  $80 for a hoodie that we wound up not getting. Spent about $200, but it’s all in krone so it doesn’t matter, right?

We came back to ship and got lunch.  I had a fabulous slice of meatloaf and a ham sandwich.  Then Chris and I went to the Thermal Spa together and had a very nice relax.  I read while she plotted out in her head her next book, Vikings of course!

Becca and I napped after that, but she was still awake and went to blog.  Becca and I woke at 5:00 and immediately got into another little fight.  I found Chris and we traded spots, I went to blog and she went to take a nap.  Instead, though, she and Becca had a nice long talk and then met me in the Crow’s Nest to talk about it.

We decided to have casual family time.  A quick dinner in the cafeteria followed by a few games of Settlers of Catan in the library.  Then we went back to our room and watched _The Ring_ which Becca had checked out.  It was a very nice, mellow evening that we all enjoyed quite a bit.  I’m so gland they suggested it.
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