Meet the Mothership

Here at the Star Rigger Ranch, we have made a major addition to our family: a 2010 Winnebago Era campervan, propelled by a Mercedes r/o/c/k/e/t/ diesel engine, with a mere 24-foot parking footprint. In other words, a whale. Hence one of the names we’ve given it: Moby Van. Mostly, we call it the Mothership. Here it is…

Mothership in driveway

It’s perfect for two, though it has seating for four. Plus dogs, of course. It’s tall enough for us short people to walk around in comfortably. And it has a bathroom with shower. We hope to start taking weekend trips this year, and in the slightly more distant future, do some real cross-country traveling. We have friends and family in Florida, on the West Coast, and everywhere in between. We’d like to see them all, and see the country, as well. And, of course, I’ll be using it for writing retreats. In fact, I plan to give it a shakedown cruise for a retreat in about a week. Stay turned for reports.

There are some things that need to be fixed, none of them critical. Basically it’s in really good condition and mostly needs a good cleaning and stocking with supplies. I’ve been learning more than I ever wanted to know about RV life, in hopes of avoiding silly mistakes.

This is obviously a major investment, one we never would have made without the generosity of my sister-in-law and dearly departed brother, who left me some funds with the instruction to “do something you will enjoy.” This started as a dream of Allysen’s, but she’s infected me with the bug—a throwback in many ways to my childhood—and I’m looking forward to some travel (and writing) on the road.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy March 23! Great Day for Rollerblading!

Mom would have been 99 today. (She departed this plane in 1970, at the tragically young age of 48.) What a glorious spring day for a birthday! She would have loved it. Our first crocus has popped up—pictured here under its dog-resistant cage. She would have loved that, too. An Ohio farm girl, she loved gardening, whether of flowers, fruits, or vegetables. (I did not inherit her skill, unfortunately. Though if you need a cage put over a plant, I’m your man.)

I celebrated by rollerblading for the first time this year! Usually I start out gradually, to give my body a chance to get used to the idea. But today I needed to pick up our car from the shop, at the other end of town. The other end of a lonnng uphill climb. It’s not really seven miles, but it felt like it to me, especially with a mask on. And it’s definitely steeper than it used to be. Fortunately, our excellent bike trail runs from close to our house right up past the back of Mal’s Auto Service. I made it without a fall, though I lost track of how many times I paused to rest. (I wonder who that girl was who skated by me at warp speed.)

Clearly I should get more aerobic exercise. Today was a an excellent start!

Go, Vax!

I’ve landed a Covid vaccine appointment. I’ve been eligible for a couple of weeks now, age-wise, but so have a million other Massachusetts denizens, all angling for the 50k or so doses available each week. Our high-tech state did a remarkably feeble job of creating an online registration service, so there was no way to just queue up in an orderly fashion. The game was to find out when and where appointments were opening up, and to jump online that very instant to see if you could score one before your, um, neighbor.

Making the game a little easier were a couple of unofficial sites, created by thoughtful coders in their spare time, that scour the various official sites, looking for openings and then posting them in one place. You still had to play, Ready, jump!, but at least it gave you half a chance. I happened to check one at 4 a.m., as I was heading to bed—and discovered that CVS in my area had acquired some vaccine! I got on their site and refreshed the scheduling page off and on through the night. Finally, at 8:08 a.m. after a largely sleepless night, I staggered to my computer and —to my wonder—scored an appointment at a nearby CVS, for this coming weekend. And a second in three weeks. End zone dance!

Postscript: I have to acknowledge some mixed feelings about this, as I am reminded daily by the news that we don’t exactly have equitable distribution of the vaccines. Not enough doses are reaching the lowest-income folk who are being most hurt by the virus. My taking or not taking a slot in a well-off neighborhood would be unlikely to have any effect on that. But still, I am aware that I’m getting something of a privileged advantage. Here’s a tip of the hat to the many volunteers who are stepping up to help folks get appointments who are not able to play the online game themselves!

The Time I Shared a Death Scene with Ian McKellen

No, really. I am not making this up. I once shared a theater stage in London with Ian McKellen (yes, that Ian McKellen) for a wrenching death scene. And me with so much to live for! Allysen died, too. It was tragic. I was reminded of this occasion by a panel I was on recently at Boskone, talking about The Lord of the Rings film.

This all happened long before Ian McKellen was Gandalf. In fact, until that evening, I had never heard of Ian McKellen. I think the year was probably 1986 or 1987, not too long after Allysen and I were married. We were visiting with her parents in London, and they treated us to a one-man show by some fellow named Ian McKellen, a Shakespearean actor of some note, we were told, but you couldn’t prove it by me. I remember almost nothing about the show, except that it was surprisingly good. I think he acted scenes from various Shakespeare plays he had been in. And then…

For a close, he invited members of the audience—anyone who wanted to come down—to join him on stage for one final performance. Allysen was out of her seat before he’d finished the invitation, and I said, “You’re not leaving me behind.” I think about thirty of us joined him on the stage. He gave us very explicit acting directions: We were to stand still and do nothing until his monologue came to a certain phrase (which I no longer remember). This we did, quite ably, I think. (Damn, we were good. It was a fight scene, too.) And when he spoke that phrase, we swung into action…

And fell down, dead. All of us.

To thunderous applause. Mr. (not yet Sir) McKellen thanked us graciously for our service and sent us back to our seats.

Little did I know that I had just shared the stage with Gandalf!

 

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Real December Finally Here

We’re getting our first real snowstorm of the year, as I write this. We’re deep into the night right now, and it looks like maybe 4-6 inches have fallen so far. Maybe it’s time for this year’s pictures of our Christmas trees. Here’s the one in front of the house. You can’t really see it from this angle, but I cut off so many branches close to the house (squirrel on-ramps, they were) that from a profile it almost looks like a bas-relief of a pine tree. Still, it works!

Tree out front, blue lights

That strange purple aura isn’t visible to the naked eye. At first I thought it was an artifact of my camera, but now I’m thinking—maybe, just maybe—it’s dark matter. Or maybe dark energy, hard to be sure.

And here’s our indoor tree, a little different this year. We didn’t go out and get a tree. Or rather, we did but we just went to the back yard and brought in a branch I’d pruned off the big oak tree. With fire in the, er, fireplace.

Indoor Christmas tree and "fireplace"

Happy ChristmaHanuKwanStice, everyone!

Going Out? Cover Your Snout!

Capt Jack - masked up

After all these months of wearing masks and taking proper precautions, I still have trouble remembering to put on a mask when I go out—especially if it’s something quick and routine, like taking the dogs for a walk. It’s not like I’m hiding the masks; they’re hanging right by the door. Am I the only one with this problem? I can’t be.

I decided I needed a mnemonic reminder. So now when I go out, I (try to remember to) chant to myself, “Going out? Cover your snout!”

It helps. Just like “Going out? Don’t go without!” helps me remember to take my wallet when I’m going to the store.

Neither is foolproof. I’m grateful for Google Pay on my phone, which saves me about once every few months, when I find myself at the grocery checkout, patting my pocket, and cursing softly because there’s no wallet there.

Some of us need all the help we can get, these days.

Not everybody likes it, though.

Squirrels!

Nuts the squirrelSquirrels! The destructive little buggers have outdone themselves this year. They’re not just chewing the Christmas lights on our outdoor tree; they’re chewing the wiring and the electronics on our rooftop solar panels! And when workers came to repair the damage and install critter guards (which we should have had in the first place), they found a nest under one of the panels. And then they saw a fat squirrel dive right through a roof vent into our attic. We’re lucky he saw it go through, because the vent had been hidden by the panel, and otherwise, we might not have discovered the hole the little varmints had chewed.

So now, we have a pest-control guy on the job, to eliminate the squirrels so the solar panels can be put back. And we just had a tree crew here, trimming back the beautiful, tall oak tree on the property line behind our house, removing among other things the handy “bridge to paradise” that an overhanging branch had been providing the squirrels. (Afterward, I saw two of the little fokkers on the shortened branch, looking agitated. The bridge is out! The bridge is out!) This is starting to get expensive!

As if that wasn’t enough, yesterday the squirrel guy saw another squirrel jump from the pine tree in front of the house, and dive through yet another, previously undiscovered hole into the space above the front porch ceiling! Ka-ching! What’s going to be next? Squirrels in the hot tub? Okay, we’re safe on that one; we don’t have a hot tub.

No offense, Nuts, but I’m asking for a BB gun for Christmas.

Another Retreat, in Brief

Nearing the end of the second of the three writing retreats I have planned. I’m back on Cape Cod, but this time at an Airbnb spot, a charming studio apartment with a kitchen so I can fix most of my meals. Less beagling myself with wonderful seafood, but maybe this time I won’t put on eleventy-seven pounds the way I did last time. Here’s a picture of the pond near where I’m staying.

Peter's Pond - Sandwich

At first, it didn’t seem to be working. And then… some words came. And then some more. Today’s my last day, so no pressure.

I’m also, intermittently, reviewing the just-recorded audiobook files for Crucible of Time. It’s great! More news soon on the audiobook front.

Okay, bye. No pressure…

Further Notes from the Creative Front

Retreat, Day 4. I’m feeling a bit more like my old self, don’t cha know. And I have, in fact, figured out a couple of important key points about the new story that had been eluding me. Which I think will help make it a story worth telling. I think.

Here are a few more pix. Yesterday, I biked the 6.5 miles to this railroad lift bridge, which was great. Then I biked back, into a stiff wind, which just about put me 6 feet under.

Today, I repeated the trip, except I drove to a park only 1.5 miles from the bridge, and rollerbladed the rest of the way. And then bladed back (into the wind, of course), which just about kilt me.

Cape Cod Railroad Bridge

I must either stop doing this or get into better shape. I rewarded myself with a gentle stroll along the Sandwich board walk down to the bay. After first passing this sign.

Okay, here I am at the actual shore.

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty enjoying myself like this, knowing what folks out west are going through. Oh well, tomorrow I head home!

Moving My Movies

It all started with Allysen looking at the shelf space my movie collection was taking up. Collecting movies and, to a lesser extent, TV shows, has been a hobby of mine for over twenty years now—especially since we got a Panasonic DVD Recorder back around the turn of the century. (That was motivated in part by the space taken up by the VHS tapes I was recording off cable; we knew DVDs were far more compact.) So now I have all these big binders full of DVDs I’ve burned, and that’s not counting all the commercial DVDs in their plastic cases.

“I know it’s your hobby and you love it, but can’t you put all those movies on a big hard drive or something? Then we could put books on those shelves,” intoned Allysen thoughtfully and a little beseechingly.

“Not that simple,” responded I instantly and a touch defensively. “How would I then play the movies on our TV?”

“Oh,” mused Allysen, frowning in pensive thought. “I never thought of that.” And she went off with a flip of her hair to do whatever women do.

(Actually she gave a heartfelt sigh and said, “Never mind,” and went off to ponder some other intractable household problem.)

Notwithstanding the obvious decline of my writing skills during the pandemic, I couldn’t let the idea, once broached, go without at least a little research. And soon I discovered Plex, the free media-server software that lets you do just what Allysen said: Put all your movies on a hard drive, and play them on your TV, using your home wifi and Roku or Firestick or whatever you stream with. You can even put them on a home server, and then you don’t even have to have your computer turned on to watch your movies.

Fast forward: We now own a little black box called a Synology server, and in the black box are two big, honking 12TB hard drives, one serving as a backup to the other. I’ve been gradually, over the past couple of months, using the free Handbrake app to rip all my DVDs into mp4 files, and saving them to the server. I’m maybe a third of the way through the DVD collection at this point, and those binders are going one by one down to a spare filing cabinet in the basement.

How did it take me so long to discover Plex? It’s amazing. It helps you organize everything, and pulls in poster art, descriptions, and similar data for each movie. It even cross-references the leading actors in your collection. You can stream your media on your TV, your phone, tablet, laptop—even when you’re away from home. And you can share it with your friends, and host “watch together” movie nights, with your friends streaming simultaneously off your server! That last we haven’t put to the test yet, but we hope to, real soon now. Oh, it can also do the same with your music collection and photos.

Plex logo

While we were at it, we cut the cord from Xfinity, but perhaps that’s a story for another time.

 

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