Monday, January 8, 2018

Home.

Walking from the airport to the car as my dad pulls around to load our things, the air is wet and there’s a crisp smell of freshness fighting its way through the car and airplane exhaust fumes.
Although you can’t see the rain falling, you’re getting wet as you move through the slick streets and damp pavements.
It’s just... there.
Driving home, the windshield wipers are on, even though all you can see is fog in the near distance.
This is my rain. 
No soft pitter-patter on the roof, no real sight of even tiny drops falling; but water appearing on the windows as we drive through this cloud.

Brick houses stand proud just feet from the narrow, winding roads, whilst pedestrians negotiate the paths and islands between traffic.

Familiar sights that have become so alien over the my years of absence - the pelican crossings; the pedestrian-focused footpaths and railings; cars parked half on, half off the road; the shape of the little red man on the walk/don’t walk lights.

I look out of the car window across a field. There sits a lone house surrounded by a handful of bushes and small trees; a hedgerow trailing away, splitting up the land. Of course, we can’t see the extend of the property because this raincloud lies across the place - obscuring the view but... completing it. The picture wouldn’t be the same if you could see it all.

Shop signs and road names greet us like old friends. The glow of the storefronts illuminating the roads as the mist keeps the early morning look and feel well into the later morning hours.
Everything is waking up as we arrive.
We’re just in time.

Following smaller cars at higher speeds while being half the distance away than we would back stateside, we wind through the motorways and B-roads to get to town. My small hometown humbly hosting a population that rivals the second-largest city in our state.

We pass the shop I used to walk to for lunch. We pass an old college I once went to.
A mile later, we’re hitting the edge of the town proper; a few furniture and appliance stores, a music shop and an alcohol store. Very much outskirt business outlets, but still important enough to greet you on your way in on this main road. 

We squeeze between parked cars as we approach the house; the roads still wet and the water still running down the sides of the car. As we open the doors and unload, the rain hits you very softly from every direction you move. Suspended there and waiting for you to interact with it.

Unloaded and settling down, we collapse onto various couches and floor spaces. The boys break out daddy’s old toys and get to work.

Granny Mops cooks up something “small” - only a handful of sausages, a dozen pigs in blankets, a pack of bacon, a full tray of potato cubes and half a loaf of bread. Eggs would have joined the party if Kid 1 was’t allergic.

We chow down. 
There’s a hundred things we want to do while we’re here, but there’s no rush.
We’re home now, and that’s all that matters.

23 hours after we set off from our house in the States, we’ve made it. Tired and hungry, we’ve done it. Ready for a good sleep and some good breakfast, we’re here. 

Kid 1 looks up at me, curious. “This is home?” he squeaks, with an expectant smile that warms my heart. 

“Yeah, Spud,” I smile in return. “Yeah, this is home.”

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Hunt.

I live a frustrating amount of time in theory.

That is; I plan and I plan; I think, rethink, write out and collect all the things that go into something that I want to do.  But never cross over into that area of practise.

Carving a spoon?  Sure, I'll get a lovely little Morakniv hook knife, gather some decent looking pieces of wood, follow a few spoon carving Instagram accounts, get a small saw to whittle down some larger pieces of wood that could work.  And then I kind of fizzle out.  Sometimes I start it and then something else comes up that takes my attention away and I just never quite get into it again.  After what then feels like a bit of an anticlimax with the project, I'm left a little deflated and uninterested.

Sometimes, a project finally sees the light of day, though.  And sometimes still, it sees some semblance of completion.

I use the spoon example before because that is one such project.  The outcome was a chunky, clumsy mini-ladle thing that has no practical use but, my goodness, I finished it.  A bit of paint on it and everything!

A project that has seen work but not completion is my board game (see last post).  It's on the long journey to completion, but it's much further than a lot of projects get.

This past Saturday, I went hunting!

This is where the theory/practise thing comes in.

I'd done my hunters' education classes, passed them, bought my hunting license (one deer tag this time around - while I'd like to think of myself as a cunning gamesman and outdoorsy-type, I am under no illusion that as a 31-year-old in Arkansas who has never hunted before, it was going to be difficult to find anyone with the desire to take on the challenge of teaching me.  Most of my friends have been hunting since they were in single digits; here's me, 20-odd years later, with nothing but ... yeah... theory).

Perry took me hunting.  He's a friend from church and he's also my boss right now.  I'd talked to him a fair bit about it and about how I've been trying to get out and go, but just didn't know where to start.  He said he'd take me to where he take his grandson... You know those kids that have been hunting since they were in single digits?  This is why.

We turned off the main highway and three blocks after that, turned onto a country road.  That was it.  That's how accessible it is down here.  We wound down smaller and smaller roads and trails until we hit a point where Perry was justifiably concerned that his new pickup truck wouldn't quite handle the terrain.

We got out and put some layers on.  It was about 24 degrees Fahrenheit.  -4 Celsius.  It didn't really feel that bad.

We'd seen two does jump across the road on the way up, which Perry said was a sign that they were already moving to feed after bedding down for the night.  Not too good for us, since our aim was to beat them to the trails they follow after they wake up.

We walked up the bumpy trail; the crisp air scratching down my chest with every breath.  I loved it.  Such fresh air so early in the day.  We don't at all live in an urban area, but we do live on the highway.  I thought I knew what fresh air tasted like, but this was incredible.

We scouted the opening in the woods - this is where the deer walked through on their way from their beds to their main sources of food - they would stop and graze here once the sun had evaporated the dew - about three hours from when we arrived.

We found a tree and sat down at the base.

And this was it fro the next three and a half hours.  It was wonderful.

We watched the morning unfold in front of us.  The birds woke up, the smaller animals started digging and wrestling through the brush.  Just before the sun cast a golden glow over the treetops in front of us, the temperature dropped a little.  That was a fun little fact I learnt as I sat there!

The warm light cascaded down the trees as the birds' chorus rose - the first warmth of the day bringing them to life.

Behind us, an empty snort rang through the woods;

"We're busted," smiled Perry.

Apparently, when a deer catches your scent, it huffs the smell out of it's nose, for want of a better description.  Not long after that, it makes a hasty retreat in the opposite direction of that scent.

Now we weren't busted for the whole morning, but certainly by that single deer.

So we waited some more.

The hours flew by - I couldn't believe how fast time went.  And I had no doubt that guys who spend days at a time alone in the woods to hunt probably don't really realise how long that actually is.  I could have set there all weekend, with how those first few hours felt.

We called it a day just under four hours in.  I had work, and since Perry is my boss, I probably wouldn't have got away with being ill that day...

He showed me some other spots that he hunts and took me to where he has a tree stand up.  Told me I was welcome there any time.  Except the first few days of the season!

As we headed back down the country roads to get to the highway, a doe walked out in front of us.  About 30 yards out, side on to the truck.  A textbook clean kill position and distance.
She stayed there for a couple of minutes - much longer than she needed to to make us consider how long it would take us to set up a crossbow - and how quietly we could do it.

As we discussed this, she ran off back into the woods, and a couple walking their dog appeared at the corner.

That was about as close as we got to harvesting anything that day, but I'm almost glad.

See, now when I go out hunting, I've been before - I've taken in as much as I can on that hunt, and I'll most likely take in a little less next time, in favour of focusing on the animal itself.  That barrier between theory and practise has been broken - and I'm very happy about it.

I also learnt that it was probably best not to have got anything on Saturday, anyway - Perry had ball game to watch at noon, and I had work at four; if we'd taken the deer at 10, let's say, we'd've waited at least 30 minutes before even starting to track the deer.
After that, the area we were hunting in does not allow you to take any bones (apart from the horns) out of the area, so we would've had to have deboned it in the field.  If not, it would have been a few days in a shed, hanging up to drain.
The fact that my family are leaving town this week would have meant that I wouldn't have been around to process it.

So it really was all about the experience this time around.  Watching the morning unfold around me was awesome; learning more and more about hunting in general was much appreciated, and I have now, officially, been hunting.

I'll take some meat home next time.  But I'm happy right now.

Peace.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Zombies.

Designing a game takes a lot longer than I expect.  Always.

I'll spin you a tale of how my latest idea came to be.  It's not a long story, but it does take place over the course of several years.  This is my attempt at a literary montage...

The first assignment I was ever given in university was to create a zombie-based game.  Board game, video game, card game.  Whatever.  Zombies.
We worked on our own projects as we saw fit; created what we wanted, how we wanted.

It was our first foray into doing our own thing.  To have a very basic outline and brief, and take it in a direction that we wanted.

I can't remember what I designed.

But that wasn't the point.

The point was that zombies are overdone in almost every game type.  If the game is not explicitly about them, it may very well include them.  Either as part of a bigger game or as an expansion of a game - it's a fail safe when it comes to adding... "variety" to a game.

At the end of the lecture, when all of the students had presented their work to the class and taken questions, the lecturer in charge of that particular class said (something like) "Ok.  Great job on that - all of you.  Some great ideas. some good takes on the brief.  But from now on, through this bachelor's degree, we don't want to see any more zombies in anyone's game design.  That's it.  None.  You've got it out of your system and now we can all move on."

And it worked.  I can't remember a single design thereafter that included zombies - for all three years, across 50 or so students.  That's a lot of projects to not have something easy to work with as a backup.


So fast forward several years.

I've done my bachelor's, I've completed my master's.  We're wanting to celebrate in some way.

I have a thought that I could make some little figures to go atop cupcakes; have some friends over and have the little figures be kind of party favours.  But I've got that games designer head on.  I need to make some sort of rule structure with which these little figures could be so much more.

I get a little distracted and the figures don't get made.  But after a couple of weeks, I play test my board game.  I'll call it "Zombie Game."

The first draft is rough and we're making up half of the rules as we play, since it's understandably difficult to think of every situational possibility when planning on how to make a new game.  We write rules down and cross rules out.  We add items to the game, we replace part of the board.  It's a lot of fun, but on the first test, it's a lot more writing.


Eventually, we get a more well-rounded game that we go on to play test a few more times before the family and I move Stateside.

The game takes a move to the back burner while we settle down and build our lives over here.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to bring it out again and play test with a friend - and one of his friends who is a little further on in the process of publishing a game.  It was great!  We got a lot of playing done and I made some great notes.  With our trip home to England coming up, I've done some more work, more drawing out, more rule amending, and sent the outline and rules of the game to a good friend back home to read through with fresh eyes.

I have some more to write, but it's in a place where I think that we can have a relatively question-free game when we go over.  I'm pretty excited.


Some pictures as I worked my way through scaling the board through various sizes.  I went from 1/8th" graph paper for my initial rough and for my first test game - as game in which we used sewing pins as pawns.  Then there was the bigger 1/4" grid that held a map that was based on a (pretty much) 1" pattern.  So then the next step was to bump the grid up to 1" to accommodate that, which is were I am now.

And then, up until the 1/4" grid, it was a house layout that was used originally was about as English as you could get; that evolved to a more American house layout once we'd moved.  One level.  Wider.  It was a challenge to translate some of the rules into a more American phrasing - some I lost altogether.

So I find myself here, at the very edge of this design.  Everyone I've tested this with has known about it before playing it save one.  And that game went well for the game's progression.  So I've sent a copy of the rules to someone else who hasn't seen them before - in preparation to test again in a month or so, but still - new eyes will find things that I can't see any more.  Putting so much time into something is one of the best ways to go blind to it.

So once we're back from our time in England, I'm going to be sending some copies of the rules and the board to some more friends to play and break.

I broke my collar bone last year.  First bone I've ever broken.  The join between the two pieces is stronger once it's healed up.  I'm hoping it's the same with the game.  Break it.  Make it stronger.

It's scary but it's fun.

Peace.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Edit: Disclaimer; For some reason, most of the images in the second part of this post have only appeared as links to the images.  They appear as soon as you click on them, but if you want to, I guess you know that you can click on the first image here and it'll show you a slide at the bottom of the screen with the rest of the pictures on there that you can look through.

Edit 2: Click the first available link to get to that string of images that I've posted here.  And for some reason, now that it's published, some of the images are off centre.  Which frustrates me a lot.

Here's the past year-and-a-bit.  In no particular order (and after a lot of frustration with formatting):

Kid 2 is grown and birthed.  Kid 1 approves.

The biggest hailstones I have yet to experience.

My mum bought a "new" car.

Little Man (Kid 1):
Experienced fireworks for the first time.  Mixed opinions.

Sat his ducks in a row like daddy did decades ago.  No prompting.  It's weird.

Got more curious about things. (The swollen eye is because someone that sat in the highchair before him left some crumbs from their peanut butter cookie.  Yeah.)

Made friends and got goofy.

Experienced his first fairground rides.


I started Pokemon (Team Instinct.  Come at me, bro.)

I went for a skateboard ride...

And experienced my first ever broken bone!




I made some more dolls, including this commission.


I doodled a lot and planned some games and characters.

I took a welding class.

We had our first AirBnB experience (it was wonderful).


We went to England!


Met Pops.

Met Granny Mops.


Was surprised to meet Uncle Theo.


I cought up with the Grandparents and introduced them to their Great-Grandchildren.


I visited some old haunts.  This collector store - everything from books to coins to rocks and shells.
I love this place.


Southport bridge.  Obligatory artsy-type shot.


The Town Hall.  I like this building.




Wifey and I celebrated our seventh anniversary.


I made a ring out of wood.

I got familiar with cooking deer and brisket.


(Almost) completed my Black/Red Minotaur deck for Magic: The Gathering.



Caught my personal best fish.
(1.25" Mosquitofish at the top, 20" Freshwater Drum at the bottom.)




 Got a new carving knife.     



Got a new board game (so much fun).




Celebrated Kid 2's first birthday.


Went to Memphis Zoo, Tennessee.

Drank some black market milk.

Playtested my board game.

Celebrated wifey's birthday month.

Kid 1 caught his first fish!


I made my first fish tacos from what I caught.


Spent some quality family times together.



Celebrated Kid 1's third birthday.






Caught heaps of herps.



Went to a baseball game.


Moved.  House.





Explored our land some.  Lots of old buildings and treasure.  And space to shoot BB guns.


Established #DateNightSteakNight.


Found my first tarantula!


Went to watch the total solar eclipse.




Established some collections (Periodical Cicadas and Wheat pennies).

I think that's about it for now.  Formatting this has been a nightmare.  Dragging photos in from my email straight to this post was a dream, but as soon as I hit eneter between the first two, everything went mental.

Anyway, this is as concise a summary as I can manage.  Some of the pictures are rotated, but I'll come back to fix those.  I really can't handle it at the moment.

It's been really fun looking back through the past 14 montsh or so, though.

Updates soon.

Peace.