Vacation of a sort

This weekend my wife and son and I took off for Cincinnati for a couple of days. The hotel is nearly empty and everything smells like strawberry disinfectant and bleach, which sounds unpleasant but is somewhat comforting.

Ohio is now under a mandatory mask order, and thus far people seem to be mostly obeying it. We’ll see how long that lasts.

We don’t have a ton of plans…let’s face it, there is not much to do that isn’t super risky. We heading up to Lebanon OH to go to my so so favorite used video game store, and the we’ll grab takeout from The Golden Lamb, the oldest continuously running Inn in Ohio. (The food is so good you guys. Check out the ham flights.)

Later tonight we’re going to hit Jungle Jim’s after the crowds have died down.

This is a welcome change of scenery. Not having third places (or even second places really) has been hard on me. I’m adjusting, but I miss hanging out in coffee shops, bookstores, etc. Or maybe I miss knowing I have the option to do so. Either way, the challenge of making the monotony of staying at home all the somehow special is really difficult. Getting out is a treat, now more than ever.

New Books! New Games!

It’s been a good week for books and games in the Vermiller household. A number of new goodies have arrived.

A display of Vaesen, a Nordic horror role playing game.
Vaesen

The big excitement is a game I kickstarted arrived. Vaesen is an RPG based on Nordic horror myths and legends. In the game, you and your party are a group of individuals in the 1800s. You each have the Sight, and have come together in Uppsala Sweden to re-establish The Society, a conclave of people researching the supernatural world.

The authors have done a masterful job of making a system that is familiar (there are similarities Fate, Call of Cthulhu, and World of Darkness), but it’s decidedly not about combat and conquering. Adventures are called Mysteries, and … you go solve them. The world of the Society intersects with the world of the Vaesen, creatures of story who are going about their own lives – not good, not evil…just doing whatever it is they do. But the two worlds are not always compatible, and things can get out of hand when humans interfere with the Vaesen, or vice-versa.

A stack of five books

I’ve been a bit fan of Belt Publishing since they spun off of Belt Magazine a few years ago. My latest haul from them contains four titles from their Belt Revivals series: books that have fallen out of print but which shine a light on midwestern life or showcase forgotten midwestern talent. The fifth is one of their contemporary titles, Midwest Futures.

  • Midwest Futures by Paul Christianson – “A tour de force of high-flying writing and fiercely independent thought, PhilChristman’s Midwest Futures grapples with grace and dark humor with the past, present, and future of the country’s most misunderstood region.”
  • Stories of Ohio by William Dean Howells – “Nicknamed the “Dean of American Letters,” William Dean Howells was a remarkable literary figure. A novelist, critic, and playwright, he forged friendships with luminaries such as Mark Twain, Henry James, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Though Howells is best known for his East Coast novels The Rise of Silas Lampham and A Hazard of New Fortunes, he never forgot his Ohio roots. In Stories of Ohio, Howells recounts the history of the state through short vignettes — from the Native burial grounds of the Serpent Mound, to the first European settlers on the frontier, to the Civil War generals and presidents the state birthed in the late nineteenth century.”
  • The Artificial Man and Other Stories by Clare Winger Harris – “Clare Winger Harris (1891–1968) was an early science fiction writer whose short stories were published during the 1920s. She is credited as the first woman to publish stories under her own name in science fiction magazines. Her stories often dealt with characters on the “borders of humanity” such as cyborgs. A native of Illinois, she died in Pasadena, California at age seventy-seven.”
  • One of Ours by Willis Cather – “One of Ours was considered a failure by some male critics of the day: H. L. Mencken said it “drops to the level of a serial in The Lady’s Home Journal, fought out not in France, but on a Hollywood movie-lot,” and Ernest Hemingway panned Cather for not having experienced the front-line herself. However, the Pulitzer committee considered it the greatest novel of the year, and this accessible, dramatic novel sold many more copies than Cather’s more famous ones, O, Pioneers! and My Antonia. “
  • The Marrow of Tradition by Charles W. Chestnut – “On November 10, 1898, a mob of 400 rampages through the streets of Wilmington, North Carolina, killing as many as 60 citizens, burning down the newspaper office, overthrowing the newly elected leaders, and installing a new white supremacist government. The Wilmington Race Riots—also known as the Wilmington Insurrection and the Wilmington Massacre, is the only coup d’etat on American soil. The violence was prompted by the increasing political powers African Americans in the town were gaining during Reconstruction. The Marrow of Tradition is a fictionalized account of this important, under-studied event. “

Hello World #3

Hello world,

It’s been a minute. Here’s what up in my little world:

  • The pandemic has been great for my gaming hobby. I’m in two D&D games, running two other D&D games, and am in a casual West Marches-style game of Pathfinder. And because there is nothing else on my social calendar, all of this is still manageable.
  • Speaking of gaming, I’ve been devoting more time to upping my Game Mastering skills. Been doing a bit of reading and honing my style. I was reminded by J.R. Blackwell on her D&D Dads podcast that GMing is an art and a craft, and therefore is with spending time to improve one’s skills. The voices in my head are cruel things, and for years they had me convinced that spending time on hobbies was unproductive or worse, a waste of time all together. Well, other than work, I’ve got nothing but time these days, so the voices can just bugger off.
  • Taking a break and pulling back from Facebook and the news to protect my mental health. My feeds are filled with very well-meaning people screaming at the top of their lungs about all the injustices in the world, and while I do believe speaking out is important, I need a little break for my own thoughts. (Someone is going to point out that I’m exercising my privilege by even asserting that I can taker a break. I’ll remind that well-meaning person that the Latin root of privilege means “private law.” No, I’m not exercising private law. I’m engaging in self-care. Besides, I’m on your side here. Watch the friendly fire, would you please? The holier-than-thou is getting a little thick in here. Thanks.)
  • We’ve lost three of our five pets this year, and the house is eerily quiet now. We still tell the dog to be good when we leave out of habit, and the same habit compels us to say hello to her when we arrive home. The two cats persist and love having the run of the house. The humans…will get used to the new state eventually.
  • Plans continue to buy a tiny house. We’re looking at a different model now, something more simple. We spoke our friends who own As You Wish Acres farm and they’ve agreed to let us put it there. Next steps include selling the house next summer, using the proceeds to put a big down payment on the tiny house, and move into a two-bedroom apartment/condo in Medina somewhere.
  • I’m going to get my office just the way I like it just in time to move. I’m certain of it.

That’s about all for now. Let’s be careful out there,

-Chris

When Is It Okay

The country has been intense of late. This weekend, I spent some time trying to relax a bit by playing a video game. The game was Expeditions: Viking. I spent hours pretending to be a viking thane from 800 A.D. protecting his hold from outside enemies. it was a pretty good time.

There came a point in the game when I, as the player, was facing an unarmed opponent. And that opponent said, “I am unarmed. You would kill an unarmed man?”

This is a common theme in a lot of frontier/medieval games and stories. Only a man without honor kills an unarmed person. Only a coward shoots a man in the back.

And that brought me back to the police killing unarmed black men.

I have been struggling to get a handle on events. I understand intellectually but I’ve been grasping for the emotions. Compassion is good but doesn’t seem to be enough.

People talk a lot about white privilege, and again, intellectually, I get it. But it feels abstract. I prefer to think about white advantage. That feeling lands with me.

I’ve been chewing through how I could challenge my white friends and family when these questions arise. When the assumptions about race shifting into that abstract area that allows people to think about humans as statistics instead of living beings.

It comes down to two questions, which amongst some people will cause enough dissonance that it might get through. Maybe. White bravado and perceived honor vs. reality.

The first, “When is it okay to kill an unarmed man?”

The second, “When is it okay to kill an unarmed black man?”

And it’s goddamn travesty of morality and ethics that for some people those answers will be different.

The Plan

The pandemic has afforded Cat and I a lot of time to talk about where we want to to take our lives over the next 3-5 years. I’d like to share our plan with you, because I’m pretty excited about it.

A couple of weeks ago we leased a storage unit on the west end of Medina. We are going through the things we don’t need day-to-day and either get rid of them or pack them away. This is similar to the Minimalists’ packing party, and this is the first chance I’ve had to try it. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of living with fewer things cluttering everything up.

Sometime next year, likely the summer, we’ll sell this house and move into a 2-3 bedroom apartment. I never thought I’d be so excited to share walls with strangers, but the truth is that this house is just too big for us anymore. I’d rather sell it to a family that can use the space. When it was me and three kids, it was just right. But now it’s down to me, Cat, and our son (and the pets), it’s just too much. We’re all ready to try something new. We’ll stay in the apartment situation for as long as our son is living with us, which is somewhere between 3-5 years most likely. Additionally, apartment living will cut out home budget nearly in half, so we can be saving money or using it to ward the next stage.

While we are in the apartment, purchase the next step: a tiny house. We are looking at working with Modern Tiny Living out of Columbus, OH to get a variant on this model:

We’ve fallen in love with this. We are fortunate in that our jobs have been stable, and if they remain so we’ll be able to afford this without too much trouble.

The final step is…finding someplace to put it. At this point, we’ll be looking at purchasing land where we can put a gravel or concrete pad along with water and electrical hookups. We have a couple of fallbacks: our friends who own As You Wish Acres have offered to allow us to put it there and use it for a time, or we could always put it into storage. But if we can find a place to put it that we can use it, it’ll be our little vacation cottage until we can move in full time.

And then…once we pay everything off…I retire from my tech career as it stands and start a new chapter. 🙂

Circumference Reduction Program

I was up at 4am this morning to kick off my circumference reduction program.

As I thought about working out and eating, I realized weight is not a thing I care about except in relationship to other measurements of my body. The biggest impact on my life is not my weight measurement, but my circumference. Out in the world most chairs and benches will hold me, but the width of things is an issue. And while I won’t have to worry about airline seats for a while (Thanks COVID!) Cat and I are talking about a tiny house purchase in the next four years. There is no way I’ll function well in that small space unless I’m physically slighter.

I’ve been successfully in keto sis for about a week. The sugar cravings are gone and I can stay on track with the keto food plan I’ve created. Now the goals are increased exercise and calorie restriction.

When I say “calorie restriction” I’m not talking anything extreme. Right now, I take in around 3000 calories a day and I’m not burning it off. So, calorie restriction for me is around 2400, which is doable. One might even call it “normal” whatever that means.

So I started today with meditation and then a walk around the neighborhood. I’ve already taken more steps than I do on an average day just working from home. My plan is to go slow: work out 3 times a week until I establish the habit, then either up the frequency or length of the workouts.

And, honestly, I’ll feel better about lying around reading if I do something during the day. That makes the little voice shut up and I can focus on my books, which is the important thing. 🙂

(Photo by NastyaSensei from Pexels)

Ghosts of Towns

When towns die, they become what they were before: nature

I am fascinated when nature reclaims something mankind built. The more complex the structure, the more fascinating its decomposition. It takes time: nature is patient. But she is also quick, always looking for the opportunity to get past our walls and break down what we have tried to so hard to build.

A week ago I took two days and visited ghost towns all over Ohio. Look at what happens when we stop denying nature her due.

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens

Cat and I got out for a nice walk at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens yesterday. It was a lovely day.

Built between 1912 and 1915, Stan Hywet Hall is one of the finest examples of the American Country Estate movement, which flourished during the Industrial Age. Unlike European country houses created by generations of title and wealth, American Country Estates were built by the wealth of self-made industry giants. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore, Rockefeller’s Kykuit, and Hearst’s San Simeon, are well-known examples.  England provided the inspiration for the Tudor revival Manor House and service buildings, and also prompted the name of the Seiberling’s estate. Stan Hywet, is Old English for stone quarry, the property’s most prominent natural feature when the land was purchased.

The Estate became a beacon of progress for F.A. and his business associates, who often met here to discuss and negotiate the challenges of the day. It served as an international stage for well known figures in music, the arts and politics, and it was the site where daughter-in-law Henrietta brought together Bill W. and Dr. Bob for a discussion that led ultimately led to the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization that has benefited millions worldwide.

F.A. Seiberling’s wife, Gertrude, established her own reputation as an accomplished artist, musician and patron of the arts. Stan Hywet’s design and décor were largely influenced by her personal taste. She applied her passion for gardening, music and the arts to help found Tuesday Musical and the Akron Garden Club, institutions that remain strong, vibrant and iconic organizations and that still support the estate today.

From the official website, https://www.stanhywet.org/

Hello World #2

Good morning everyone. Hope you are all holding it together out there. Here’s what’s up in my world.

  • Work continues to go well. I’m enjoying working from home, and thus far the entire department has been knocking it out of the park during the pandemic. Hiring staff has been a major improvement. I’m really fortunate to have Shannon as my front-end developer, and we just hired David as our UX/UI lead. These two have been a huge help to Michael and me. We’ve been a two-man web department for months, and having other professionals join us is a major improvement to our lives. I am still looking for a BA to join the team, so if you are interested, let me know.
  • Going Keto has been good for me. My waking blood sugar is under 200 for the first time in months. My Ketones are at 1.1 at the moment, so that working as expected. I did keto about three years ago and it didn’t work for me nearly as well: there just wasn’t as much support in the marketplace for it. Recently Cat discover PangeaKeto, and that has been a game changer. We’ve been introduced to a whole world of keto-friendly alternative to some of our favorite things. In my case, the ability to have sandwiches with keto bread that tastes like bread is a major life improvement. Also, keto ice cream is a lifesaver. I usually wind up snacking on something sweet after dinner, and the ice cream helps me stay true to me goals. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Yarrr! Keto! Avast ye scuvy dogs!)
  • Cat and I are starting to explore selling the house sometime next summer and moving into a two bedroom apartment or condo. Our long-term goal is to buy a piece of property and put a tiny house on it, and the savings we’d garner from selling and downsizing would go a long way toward meeting that goal. It’s just an exploration for now…we need to see how our work situations change in the coming months. Additionally…we still have four pets which is a non-starter for most places with a lease. All the pets are elderly now; the dog and cats are 14 and the remaining guinea pig is 7. So…we’ll see how their health affects the timeline.

Time to start today’s meetings. Take care out there and stay safe!

No Man’s Sky vs COVID-19

During this whole COVID-19-stay-at-home thing, one of the ways I’ve been keeping sane is going to for long drives and seeing areas around me that I haven’t seen before.

After nearly two months, I’m running out of places within an hour of me. Which is weird. I never thought I would literally run out of land to see while driving. As the weather warms up, I plan to get out hiking, but for the last couple of weeks I’ve been quenching compusion for exploration with No Man’s Sky.

“No Man’s Sky is an exploration survival game developed and published by the indie studio Hello Games. It was released worldwide for the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows in August 2016, and for Xbox One in July 2018. The game is built around four pillars: exploration, survival, combat, and trading. Players are free to perform within the entirety of a procedurally generated deterministic open world universe, which includes over 18 quintillion planets.”

Wikipedia

Yeah. So I doubt I’m going to run out of planets until at least August (joke).

Snapshot of my home based on Hades, a planet in the Euclid Galaxy which boasts a daytime temperature of 145 degrees F during the day.

I’ve owned the game since it came out in 2016, but a few things kept me from getting enjoyment from it. The first thing is that when they released it, there was almost nothing you could do in it. You could pilot a ship between space stations and planets, but that was about it. It was a big sandbox with lots of neat visuals but not much else.

It also lacked any motivation. Erik Kain captured the feeling well in his 2016 column for Forbes:

There’s a story here, sort of, and lots of lore. But it’s a nihilistic experience; I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing, other than to get more Units. A bigger ship. Better stuff. I’m a space consumer, entrepreneur. I’m a capitalist crafter with a capital C.

I’m just not sure why. And pretty soon, it all starts to feel dreary with sameness.

All the planets are different, but for all their differences, they blur together. I can’t anchor any of them with any meaning. My discoveries are like little boxes I tick off, little notches in my belt. Why?

Why am I doing this?

Erik Kain, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of ‘No Man’s Sky’

Over the last four years, the Hello Games team has done a great job of recovering from the inital negative reaction and the updated in the intervening years have made for a much improved experience. The story (thus far) is not as compelling as say Skyrim or Half-Life, but it’s presented in a way that allows you to pursue it if you want, or go explore and ignore it. They also added a creative mode where you can just build stuff and fly around, if that’s your thing.

My trusty ship, the Murphy’s Unfortunate Timing, named in the vein of Iain Banks.

Because it’s pretty light-touch on the story, I don’t feel rushed to complete it, but I do keep it in mind when heading out into the universe. You wind up starting small and with little context (they use the amnesia-of-the-main-character plot device made so popular by Roger Zelazny and Robert Ludlum) and as you explore and build, you uncover more about not only yourself but the universe you inhabit. There are missions to accumulate riches, caches of technology to be recovered, ship salvage, pirates to be fought, and the mystery of who you are and why you cannot remember anything.

The real clincher for me in these days of COVID-19 is the VR experience. When all of this started, I bought an Oculus Quest for the family. My son and I have been having a blast (Minecraft in VR is pretty wild, guys) and because of the way VR tricks your brain, you can begin to feel as if you are outside, or at least, not stuck at home. No Man’s Sky is a game of stunning vistas and exploration that keeps me from going completely stir crazy.

In the game, you can name anything you discover, which is how little plants on my home planet of Hades got this name.

The naming of planets, minerals, systems, flora, and fauna add to the thrill of discovery. Amazingly, you get paid to go out and explore, which is probably the only thing that make it worthwhile in the terms of game mechanics, but I’m not it in for the coin, I love seeing new vistas. Especially now.

And if you get bored, well, there are people on the various space stations willing to give you credits for doing various missions in one of the four pillars of the game. You also build reputation with the various factions and races, which changes the interactions you have.

Finally, if you are truly desperate there is a multiplayer mode so you can go on missions with strangers or friends. I’m…not that desperate. Yet. We’ll see if that day ever comes.

Miller’s Valley, my base on Hades, by night.