Month: August 2017


This post is me finishing up stories from my trip to Europe even though I’ve been back for weeks now.

When I was pre-planning my excursions months in advance, Tallinn was the place where I didn’t expect to go ashore. I hadn’t heard much about it except that it was small and there wasn’t all that much to do. So I didn’t schedule an excursion. It turned out to be the most magical of my trips off the ship. It was this building that lured me into walking ashore.

I could see the spire from the ship and it looked like a walkable distance. So my friend Kenna and I decided to go see if we could find it. The first part of the journey wasn’t particularly scenic. It was just a ship dock and some normal looking streets with street lights. Then we turned a corner to see this:

It even had a slot for a portcullis to be raised and lowered. Beyond it were narrow cobblestone streets and an area that we learned was called Old Town. We wandered along looking through archways into courtyards. I took a picture of the cobblestones, because apparently I can’t be near cobblestone paths without photographing them.

All along the church spire was high above us so we wended our way toward it. The doors to the church were open, and a sign said we were welcome to enter, so we did.

The thing I loved most about this church was that it is clearly still in regular use. Electric lighting and speakers had been installed so that people could see and hear clearly even in the back. I could feel the reverence and the peace of the place. People came here to commune with God, and that spiritual effort lingers in the places where it happens.

Throughout the church was beautiful carved wood. I took many pictures of it, but this door stood out. I don’t know what it says, but the words are obviously meaningful to the people who took so much effort to put them there.

We left the church and wandered onward through the streets. Very soon we found this, which was when we realized that the whole town had once been a fortified place protected inside walls.

I looked up at the wall towering above me and wondered about the people who built it so long ago. I pictured them patrolling those wooden walkways to keep their people safe. Then I wondered how living in the literal shadow of the past would shape a society and the individuals who lived in it. These people went to services each Sunday inside a building that is older than my entire country. That has to shape their perspectives about time and permanence. To me this wall was a rarity, something amazing and magical. For them, it was a thing that had always been there. Even after it’s usefulness as a fortification ended, the walls became parts of homes, or entire apartments. Houses were built right up against it.

And some of the windows in the wall that I could see were obviously the windows of private residences. We passed through the arch of the wall and found ourselves in a garden space. There were several art/garden installations as part of a festival. I was particularly taken with this one that featured a dismantled car.

It was somewhat comforting how many of the flowers I recognized. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me. Most American gardens are heavily influenced by European gardening traditions. But it was still nice to see these petunia columns

Wandering further gave us a good view of the exterior of the wall.

Then Kenna noticed this sign and suggested we go see the ceramics.

It was one of the best decisions of the day, and if you ever get the chance to visit the Tootoad Ceramics Gallery in Tallinn, you should do so.

I was expecting a tourist shop, some place where people sold little ceramic things to visitors. Instead we walked into a functioning artist’s workspace.

The woman there told us that she was one of a collective of five artists who worked in the space and combined forces to pay the rent and support each other’s work. Their space was inside one of the wall turrets. Then she told us that for one Euro we could climb all the way up the turret to the very top where they had an art installation. Kenna and I happily handed over one Euro each and climbed up the metal spiral staircase to the second floor.

This floor was another work space with large table and kiln. I loved the combination of ancient stone walls, ceramics in progress, and modern touches like the computer in the corner. Another wrought iron spiral stair took us to the third floor.

This is where they set out ceramics to dry and where they photographed work for sale and exhibition.

To this point one of the woman had accompanied us and explained how the studio worked, but then she took us through a door to some stone steps and turned us loose to explore the rest on our own.

The fourth floor was some sort of an exhibit space or performance space.

It was set up with chairs in a row along one side of the room, and exhibition lighting that reminded me of medieval chandeliers like I’ve seen in movies.

Our next path upward was a steep wooden staircase in the corner.

At the top of the stairs we stepped through a stone door way to see these steep stone steps.

The passageway for them was narrow and dark. The steps were tall, about one and a half times taller than usual for stairs. And the whole stairway curved along the shape of the outer wall. I couldn’t walk up them without thinking about ancient archers climbing to their stations.

The fifth floor only contained a bulletin board explaining the art installation and a wooden bed suspended from ropes.

We were puzzled, not at all sure what meaning was intended by the hanging bed. But the space was fascinating with it’s windows and thick stone walls. Our next path upward was more like a wooden ladder than like stairs.

Kenna climbed up first and then shrieked because she’d been startled by a pigeon. I followed. I’m not sure I can adequately convey how different and disorienting the space was. We’d been surrounded by stone with clean wooden floors. Suddenly I was surrounded by wood frame of the turret cap and the floor seemed to be dirt. We could see out the slats and gaps in the wood and shingles. Sounds of the street outside were suddenly present in a way they hadn’t been elsewhere in the turret. And then hanging in the middle of the space was this giant construction of wire and canvas.

It swung freely, like a pendulum suspended from the rafters above.

The sounds and the motion of the pendulum combined with sea legs to make the whole room feel uncertain. Both Kenna and I felt far more grounded when we sat down instead of standing. Yet being disoriented somehow seemed like the point. Maybe it isn’t what the artists meant, but it was profoundly effective to us. We simply sat there for a while, feeling the things that the space offered to us.

Then we descended one level, where the hanging bed seemed to make more sense. It was there for us to lay on and sway after experiencing the disorienting installation above.

Laying on the bed was profoundly peaceful. We stayed there in silence for quite some time. Then we both spent some time writing, Kenna on her phone and me in my journal. Then we descended back through the spaces and stairways, stopping to look at things as we went. A View from one of the windows:

Some of the ceramic art on display was fascinating. I found this one compelling because of the way it stared at me.

And these ones seemed in motion even while they were made of rigid ceramic.

With our feet back on the ground, we bid farewell to the ceramics studio.

Our next goal was to find some food. The ceramicists had given us directions and we followed them to this open air market.

The whole area around it was modern with cars, buses, and asphalt streets. I realized that we’d entered the regular part of town instead of the preserved Old Town. This market was simply a place where people did their weekly grocery shopping. I loved that most of the stands sold cut flowers. Americans don’t value or spend money on cut flowers except as gifts for special occasions.

But even in this modern place there were touches that were particularly Estonian.

Kenna and I found a stand that sold take away Indian food. We both came away with rice and curry in little containers. We walked back to the park to find a bench. Our original plan had been to climb up to an overlook spot that we’d been told about, but one glance told us that there were more stairs than we felt like climbing. There was a bench with lawn instead, so we sat down. This fellow was already near by when we wandered over.

As soon as we were seated, he wandered closer. And closer. He started making the same sorts of body motions that my cat makes when she’s considering jumping into my lap.

Him jumping into our lap seemed like a very real possibility. He tracked each fork full as it went from container to mouth, standing only a foot or two away.

Kenna gave in before I did, but we both fed him some before we left.

He was thorough about cleaning up every grain of rice that we dropped.

Food eaten, we wandered back toward the ship. We stopped in a little souvenir shop where Kenna and I each purchased something. We also paused long enough to admire this pipe, which apparently has its very own hashtag.

It was a beautiful day. I heard from others who went to a restaurant where they had a full medieval feast. Others found a house rumored to be haunted. All of the stories cemented Tallinn as a place I would like to visit again. I would like to wander and see more details. I loved the feel of Old Town. I would love to stay in one of the historic hotels, and eat Estonian food. The day had been wonderful, peaceful, fun, and amazing.


The school year started barely twenty four hours after I returned from GenCon, so there wasn’t much time for me to re-calibrate my brain in between. Fortunately some portion of my brain just remembered how everything needed to go, so we got up on time and got kids out the door on schedule. They’ve now been in school two days, which means they’ve had the first iteration of all of their classes. I’m pleased to report that my high school junior is excited by most of her classes instead of feeling oppressed by them. This is a huge improvement over last year. My 9th grader isn’t actively excited by classes, but he’s not dreading school either. I’ll take that. The college girl departs for school on Friday. Come Monday I need to help the post-high-school non-college kid apply for jobs. Also I need to sign up the 9th grader for some independent study classes. The best part is the complete lack of foreboding. I feel like this year is going to go well instead of being terrified that it won’t.

GenCon was good. I struggled with anxiety and brain noise a lot more than usual. It made some things harder than they needed to be. Planet Mercenary was well received and had a solid start at making its way out into the world. We had some important business conversations which may lead to fun projects. I got to spend time with my booth crew, who is like family. One of my favorite events every year is the crew dinner that we have on Sunday evening after all the work is complete. Then we can just enjoy being together. Maybe it was because of the 50th anniversary, but this dinner was full of reminiscing and stories of GenCons past. It was fun to hear about things I hadn’t been present for, and to relive things that I had. I also got to hang out with writer friends, which is also a joy.

The post GenCon accounting is mostly complete. There are a few more things I must do before I can put away the GenCon folders until sometime in January. I’ve also begun wrapping my brain around the piles of shipping which need to be done. I ordered more shipping supplies so that come Monday I can begin plowing through work. I also began reaching out to potential bonus story artists, which is a task I really should have done before I left for Europe, but which fell through the cracks. The Adventure PDF, the GC secrets PDF, and the half sheet inserts for the handbrains are also on my To Do list. I’m hoping to wrap up all of these things by the end of September so that I’m available for new projects after that.

Tomorrow I post Kickstarter updates and help my college girl pack up her life for what is (hopefully) her final semester of college.

History and Revision

Here is the thing about history, society and individuals are always choosing what to pass down to our children and what not to pass along. Every time someone creates a history textbook they have to choose what goes in and what has to be left out because there isn’t space for everything, so the book from which children learn is a small subset of history. Every time a teacher uses that textbook they have to choose where to focus their teaching time, because there aren’t enough hours to teach everything that is in the book, so the portion of history that enters common knowledge for a generation is further reduced. Any time a historical movie gets made details are pruned away or rearranged for narrative purposes. Sometimes that makes people upset, so they make another movie where different details are pruned and rearranged. It gets even more complicated when we’re interpreting history, when we’re explaining what a battle or event means. Events, places, dates, names are fairly fixed, but the meanings we assign to those fixed historical points are always in flux. There is no One True Version for history.

I’ve been thinking about that this week as I’ve seen news of protests and counter protests surrounding confederate monuments. The meaning of these symbols to individual persons depends on which interpretation of history that person chooses to accept. Cities have begun to remove these monuments because the majority has come to believe the interpretation that symbols of the confederacy are harmful. All of it: the decision to remove them, the protests about it, the counter-protests, the videos of people using trucks to topple statues without city consent, these are all a vigorous argument that our society is having about who we want to be and which versions of history get to thrive while other versions get relegated to pockets where they are specifically discussed as ugly instead of glorious.

Also this week, I watched a movie I haven’t seen in a decade. It is a Western comedy film called Hallelujah Trail that my mother loved and we recorded it off TV to VHS and then I re-watched it dozens of times to the point where every line was familiar. It was delightfully ridiculous with mass covered wagon chases and gun fights where no one died because there was a sand storm and no one could see anyone else. It used all the props of a western, but the spirit was screwball comedy. It had come to mind lately and I wanted to see it again. I considered tracking down a copy (It was only on DVD once and has been out of print for a very long time) and watching it with my kids. But I knew it was a western from the era when Native Americans were treated as villains or as caricatures. I knew it would have things in it that are offensive. Instead I found it on YouTube and watched it by myself.

The opening bars of music made me so nostalgically happy. I still remembered every line of dialogue. The fun mix of western and comedy genres was still there. However there was also a veritable bingo-card of offensive stereotypes. Some of them were half-conscious: Native American Indians deliberately played as drunks for comedy purposes; some of them were unconscious products of the time the movie was made: strong-minded, independent woman’s plot resolution is to get married and give up being a suffragette and temperance marcher. And the whole movie centers around a shipment of whiskey with a wagoneer wanting to deliver cargo, a militia wanting to make sure it gets to them safely, US Cavalry trying to keep order, temperance marchers wanting to destroy it, and the Indians wanting to steal it. The whole movie is about being drunk, wanting to be drunk, or trying to prevent drunkenness but then getting drunk because of “emotional distress.” All of which (in hindsight) seems like a strange choice as a beloved movie for a family of Mormons.

As I watched I had a sort of cognitive dissonance as part of my brain loved each scene for its deep, personal nostalgia and another part of my brain viewed with a modern eye analyzing all the ways this movie gives offense to a swathe of people. I finished the film and knew two things: I still love this movie and I can’t in good conscience share it with anyone else or teach them to love it. I will quietly not show it to my children and they will have no grief that it fades into unwatched obscurity.

This is the choice all adults must sometimes make. Sometimes a movie, or statue, or ideology, or way of living, no longer fits the shifts of society. Sometimes we have to let the past go in order to have a better future. This can be hard when we love these past things. In my case, with this movie, it is only a mild wistfulness that my kids will never love a thing that I loved. The decision becomes heart wrenching if the thing that must be allowed to pass is a core part of your identity. I see that the rage and violence surrounding confederate monuments comes from a place of grief and fear, but the decision to relocate them is the one that helps us build a society where we’re trying to redress the wrongs of the past and a society where everyone is treated equally regardless of ethnicity or skin color.

Traveling Again

It feels like such a short hop, only four hours in a plane, so much shorter than the trip I just took with multiple hops and full days of travel. Hop, and I’m in Indianapolis. It is familiar here. I’ve been this place before. This exact Hotel. I will soon see people that I get to see only once per year. The prior trip was a venture into new places, foreign lands. This trip is more like a family reunion.

I’ve arrived late in the evening, though back home it is less late, so I am awake. Howard met me here, but he came from far to the east. He is sleeping now, still working to re-set his internal clock to the day/night rhythms of this place. He has two more days in which to adapt before the show begins in earnest. I’m glad to see him. He is even more glad to see me. We’ve only been apart for a week, but he’s been away from home for over three.

One of my worries in advance of his month-long travel was that breaking his patterns for so long would break him somehow. I forgot that brains are significantly location dependent. I remembered it again when I got home and discovered that all the shipping thoughts which I’d set down for weeks were apparently stored in the driver’s seat of my car. They were right there waiting for me when I climbed in for a quick errand. Howard will be able to slip back in to his home thoughts and work again. Yet when he returns he’ll have new thoughts and experiences, just as I did. Travel caused me to see familiar things in new ways. I would have liked time to explore that experience, but the turn around to this trip was filled with urgent tasks.

Now I am here. GenCon begins on Thursday.

Seeing Growth

It is Sunday morning and my house is quiet. This is because when I went to bed last night, at midnight, all four of my children were sitting together in front of the TV, talking and laughing uproarously. They were watching a replay of sorts that is built into the new Zelda game (Breath of the Wild), however the game wasn’t the point. They were happy to be together, to make each other laugh, and to have a shared experience. They were so happy that I kind of wanted to stay and just listen, but it was a sibling thing and mom being in the room changed the shape of it. So I listened from upstairs where I couldn’t hear the specific words, just the bursts of laughing.

I have to pause and acknowledge this moment. We have reached a space where I can leave my children to take care of themselves and their siblings without worrying someone will have a massive meltdown. I don’t fear that the issues of one will ignite the issues of another into a big emotional fight. They are all relaxed and happy after this summer where school backed off and they all spent time working together. Then they spent time with just siblings in the house, learning how to take responsibility for themselves and the house. At this moment there are no open wounds either emotionally or physically. Nothing hurts, not even the scars.

In two weeks time school will begin and bring with it a flood of responsibilities and stresses. That flood may knock us off balance, some of my kids may go back to fighting to keep their heads above water, but I don’t think they’ll struggle as much as they did last year and the year before (and the year before that, and the year before that. It’s been four years now with them all struggling.) We are all measurably better than we were last year. We’re stronger, we have more tools to build rafts so we don’t have to swim all the time. For the first time in years I look forward to the beginning of school with interest instead of fear. Because, for the first time in a long time, I believe that they have strength in themselves to handle whatever comes without breaking.

This is a better place. I need to pause and note it before things get hard again.


I’d had a sea day to recover from the tour in Copenhagen, but I discovered that I still wanted a quieter day than a tour was likely to provide. (It turns out that my choice was wise. Reports from the tour I would have been on were that the tour guide was …not good.) Howard opted to meet an online, Stockholm-resident, friend for lunch. I thought I might stay on the ship. But when Mary expressed an interest in walking to a restaurant that was once a royal estate, I went along.

One of the things I had been observing throughout my trip is a difference in European and American culture. European culture expects individuals to be responsible for themselves, read signs, and follow instructions. American culture assumes that individuals need to be herded and directed then walled off from anything that might hurt them or they shouldn’t touch. Intellectually I prefer the European mode in this, but it did lead to moments of confusion or embarrassment when I went to places or touched things that I ought not because I’m culturally programmed to expect large instructions and barriers instead of small discreet signs.

As we exited the ship, Mary pointed out how different it was to disembark in Europe than the Caribbean. In the Caribbean all the ports are filled with people wanting to sell stuff to tourists. The economy there is dependent on such influxes. The port at Stockholm was empty.

At the end of the terminal was a small sign (discreet of course) that essentially said “follow the blue line to the center of town.” There was in fact a blue line painted on the ground. The meaning was clear and stated aloud by Mary: “Welcome to Stockholm, we’re glad you’re here, but we’ve got other things to do. Have some paint.”

We veered away from the painted line fairly early in our walk, as we were following directions on Mary’s phone instead. We entered a large open park.

The park was obviously in use by locals who were walking their dogs, sun bathing, or generally enjoying the lovely day. This tower was the tallest structure around. We tried to guess what it might be for, but never did figure it out.

Along side our path there were some well behaved horses who were only contained by some ribbons.

American horses I know would have had their heads outside that “fence” to graze on the longer grass by the path. Then they would have discovered that ribbons were no barrier at all and would have been off into the fields. But the horses were pretty and we wondered aloud if perhaps they were some specific Swedish breed.

Our path led us through a small forested area, which was lovely.

One thing we noticed was the quiet. We’re used to noisier cities and places, more machine sounds, louder voices.

We passed by this gate sitting in the middle of a field with no fence attached. It put me in mind of the magical gates that sometimes show up in stories about fae. This impression was increased by the overgrown path leading up to it. We decided not to walk closer on that path because as Mary said “I know how that story goes.”

We found our destination and had a lovely lunch.

The staff spoke excellent English so we had no trouble placing our orders. The waiter even helped us to call a cab to get back to the ship. It was a lovely day. And I may need to find a local source for this rose lemonade.

Pictures Added

Note: I’ve added pictures to the posts that were lacking them while I was on the ship of little internet. The Fjords at Dawn post in particular was rewritten and expanded.

Now I just need to write up Stockholm, Tallinn, and St. Petersburg (which might even get multiple posts because of the nature of the tour I took.)

Traveling Home

Hamburg airport wins the prize for Most Convoluted Check-in Process. Our group had to go to stand in line at four different counters in order to successfully acquire boarding passes and hand off luggage. A detailed account is below for people who like details.

I’d expected my trip home to be solitary and introspective. Instead I traveled with friends from the hotel to the airport and on the first flight. Then I made a new friend on the transatlantic flight. I’d expected to spend that flight writing or watching a bazillion movies. Instead I ended up seated next to a fellow geek and we talked most of the trip home. Then we hung out together through customs and had dinner before parting for our separate flights. It was unique in my traveling experiences to collect a friend I’m likely to keep beyond the length of that trip.

By the time I reached the Salt Lake airport I wasn’t capable of doing more than shambling toward baggage claim and my shuttle pick up. The shuttle bus driver was a truly kind and thoughtful person. He was also non-stop chatty, but fortunately there were other passengers who were able to give him answers. Because my brain was so tired he might as well have been speaking Russian, or German, or Finnish, or any of the other foreign languages that my brain learned to filter out during my trip.

Then I was home where I swapped stories with my kids before collapsing into bed.

Details of Hamburg Airport:

Counter 1: I started at a self check-in kiosk. There were four of them, but only one was functioning. This meant we had to stand in line waiting for a group of fifteen young men to check into their flight and print their boarding passes. Then I took my bags to drop them off. My travelling companions were both re-directed to the full service kiosk which was around a corner and several hundred feet away. The luggage drop off was also an automated kiosk with an attendant nearby. The first bag went relatively smoothly, though the attendant had to call out instructions when she thought I wasn’t doing things properly. The second bag was the large case for the writing excuses recording gear. The attendant brusquely told me I had to take it to the full service kiosk. So I walked to join my friends in a new line.

Counter 2: We were in line with a dozen other people and there was no one at any of the desks. The front of the line was two young women with three small children, two car seats, and several very large bags. They informed us that they’d been in line when the people at the counter had abruptly closed up shop and left them standing there un-checked-in with small children to attempt to entertain. An inquiry to the self-checking bag attendant netted the information that the posts would be opened two hours before the flight. They opened at least fifteen minutes later than that. However when they did show, they immediately observed that one of my traveling companions was riding a scooter and in need of disability services. Our group was whisked to the front of the line, much to the frustration of others who felt like they shouldn’t have been shunted aside. Fortunately their frustration was aimed at the attendant, not at us. Also fortunately the other attendant immediately took the two women and their children to help them. When It was my turn at the counter she put a tag on the box of gear and informed me I had to take it to oversize luggage drop off and then, because it was a second bag, I had to go to an additional counter to pay the fee for the extra bag.

Counter 3: The line for oversize baggage was about six people deep. My travel friend was also lugging a case of gear, so we decided to divide and conquer. She went to go pay for the bags while I stood in line to get them onto the plane. Naturally the machinery ground to a complete halt just as I reached the front of the line. The workers spoke to each other in rapid German and their body language seemed to indicate that we were all waiting on some sort of a mechanical failure or pause. But then they took the bags without trouble, so that was good.

Counter 4: Paying for bags was still happening when I reached that counter. For some reason it took two attendants eight minutes of scowling at the screen, conversing in German, and typing to manage to charge our credit card and then hand us receipts. We made a brief stop back at counter 2, where the attendant there double checked the work of the counter 4 attendants.

The party split up with half in the hands of disability services who whisked them through back ways to the airplane. The rest of us went through regular security. When we arrived at our gate, there were zero chairs. This was not that all the chairs were taken, it was that they did not exist. Wide open space, not a chair to be seen. Fortunately the airplane had saved us some seats and the Amsterdam airport was a much more pleasant experience.

Back in Kiel

We successfully exited the ship. This process is a fairly long one of gather then wait, walk then wait, ride shuttle then wait. I will say that I’m really a fan of how European countries handle customs. About all we had to do was get a stamp in the passport and pick up our luggage, no long customs lines like the ones I expect when I get to the states.

Our hotel room was not ready when we arrived, so Howard and I enjoyed lobby con with many of the other instructors and attendees. It was very enjoyable to sit and talk with no action items looming. The late afternoon was filled with ninety minutes of cruise post-mortem. This is a meeting with all the staff where we discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what we plan to do differently next year. The meeting always runs long because we’re all tired and we’re still unpacking our experiences. Additionally, the fatigue makes us unfocused.

Group dinner always follows staff meeting. And then it was time for bed.

In the morning Howard will board a train bound for a tour of four castles. I will board a shuttle to an airport and a flight which will take me home. I type those words, but outside my window is still the water where the cruise ships pull up. I’m surrounded by things German. My brain still has so much to process and there isn’t quite space for me to unfold the home thoughts yet. Additionally, I’d love to get blog posts written for the remainder of the cruise days before I’m fully out of cruise head space. Perhaps tomorrow during my two layovers. One week at home then I meet Howard in Indianapolis for GenCon.

For now, I’ll enjoy my last hours of being in Germany. I think one of the biggest gains is that the thought of foreign travel is far less intimidating than it was before. I have no idea when I’ll get to do it again, but that is okay. I got to have this trip and it was lovely.

Days Begin to Blend Together

The days are beginning to pile on top of each other. I’ve just finished the day where I wandered in Tallinn Estonia, but when I went to write my thoughts about it, I discovered an unfinished draft about fjords at dawn. In between the fjords and Tallinn was an excursion into Stockholm and a bunch of behind-the-scenes management of, not crises exactly, but of people in need of emotional support and attention. This is expected when you bring a hundred introverted writer people, put them in situations where they need to socialize, where they are learning new things that make them doubt their capabilities, and where they are so eager to not miss out on anything that they neglect to take time to recharge, eat, and sleep.

I want to write each set of thoughts when they are fresh, but events are happening fast with little space in between. I scheduled time for writing today, but was tackled by a nap instead. Disorientation from the unexpected nap and from the fact that we changed time zones last night combined to make me miss the group photo. I’m still frustrated with myself for that. St. Petersburg is tomorrow and that will be another set of experiences, pictures, and thoughts to process.