Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanksgiving With a Difference

Someone said that 'Traditions are made to be made'. In other words, don't just stick with the way it has always been done for the sake of it, adapt and change with what is going on around you. That is something we have tried to do, and this year we really needed to embrace it head on! My wife's parents are not well - her father has end-stage leukemia (has for >2 years now!) and her mother might have lung cancer, anyway they are no longer traveling - and since she and her sister don't talk, and her sister claims every possible holiday as her familily's to visit, we don't see them at holidays.

With my family it has been a different thing - we have been growing apart, and for a while I thought that both they and I were changing, but upon reflection this year, I can see that much of what is going on is just the way things have always been. The difference is that I will no longer 'put up and shut up' and do things to appease them - especially when I see them treating my kids like items on a checklist. My motto for years now has been - mess with me, fine, mess with my kids and watch out! So we have completed the fall checklist and my parents once again got in as many checklist items in one day as possible - which meant celebrating his birthday a month late (I was proud - he firmly said "do *not* sing, it is *not* my birthday). There was no mention of what they were doing for Thanksgiving.

Last year we had invited some friends over with their twin girls who are a few months younger than our older son. It was a great time, and we had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

So this year we knew we would be just the four of us, and decided amongst ourselves how to make it fun. So what did we decide?
  • Everyone would help make out a menu so we would all have our favorites.
  • We would have a fancy dinner that we would all work on cooking.
  • The weekend would have lots of relaxation and family time.
  • We would be out of the house by 5AM Friday on a 'Shopping Adventure'.
  • While shopping we would all get some choices of where to go.
  • We would make it to church for the first Sunday of Advent.

    Pretty ambitious list, I know ... but very do-able. And we did it all - and more. We had a great week leading up to Thanksgiving - it really started when I took a half-day on Tuesday and we had the kids' 'Parent-Teacher Conferences', and ended when reality struck again Monday morning.
  • Everyone wanted traditional dinner - so we had a great 10lb turkey with stuffing, mashed & sweet potatoes, veggies, gravy, salad, cranberry sauce ... and pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie and chocoltate ganache cake. My wife loves to bake ... and she is truly awesome.
  • I went out to get the Boston Globe to get the Black Friday newspaper ads, and got to plow through a few inches of snow. I was thankful we weren't traveling anywhere.
  • Later in the day I got the chance to work off some of my turkey by shoveling 6 inches or so of snow! Lucky me!
  • We're all shoppers - so the prospect of braving the Friday crowds was exciting rather than daunting. We decided on a shopping plan, starting with Toys R Us and heading through a few other stores before hitting Target and the Mall. We also decided that drinks and snacks would come in the car and we'd have brunch later. Another side benefit was that the earliest stores we wanted to hit opened at 6AM.
  • Arriving at Toys R Us at 5:45 AM was something ... it was interesting that Office Max had a larger line (due to the low-price computers, I later discovered). The atmosphere early on was pretty festive, but certainly frantic. Our primary goal was charity gifts, but we managed to snag a few gifts for our kids while they weren't looking.
  • Shopping was largely successful, and pretty fun, but by the time we got to Target, we were all well aware of one thing - this was *not* a day for browsing.
  • We found a new place for breakfast, a small classic diner that had recently opened. We got a nice breakfast there, for pretty decent money.
  • There were other stores we talked about getting to - Barnes & Noble in particular - but we were close to the theater, so we checked the time for Harry Potter. It was starting in 10 minutes! So we jumped right in - which worked well, as the popcorn and sode would have cost more than the huge breakfast we had just devoured!
  • The rest of the weekend was busy but casual - we had gotten an artificial tree this year due to my wife & younger son's allergies, so we spent Saturday decorating.
  • Sunday we finished the shopping - a few things at the Christmas Tree Shop (mostly gifts for the Scout caroling at the elderly housing we do next week) and a bunch of time at Barnes & Noble.
  • Monday came too early, as it always does ... I wasn't all that rested, and had certainly gained a few pounds, but felt wonderfully loved and rewarded.

    After going through the weekend, I look back on a great deal more that I'm thankful for:
  • I'm more thankful than ever for my wife and kids - it may sound corny or hackneyed, but they are the center of my universe, and we had an absolute blast together in a way you wish could just last forever.
  • I am thankful that near the top of both my boys' lists were gifts for less fortunate kids.
  • I am happy that my younger son broke down and cried as he watched this scene at 8AM in Target: a woman in standing in front of a end-cap in Toys, looking at stuff, when another woman grabs a toy off the shelf. Apparently it was the last one, because the first woman, without attempting to talk, streams explitives and then throws coffee at the other woman (thankfully the top was on so it was a trickle), whereupon the other woman returns a verbal volley and leaves her while calling out psycho. I am so glad that my son sees this as completely crazy behaviour, enough to make him very emotionally upset.
  • I am grateful that when an item for one of the charity kids - something my older son picked from the 'wish tree' at church - ended up *not* on sale, that he volunteered his own money to make up the difference.
  • I am proud that we can go places as a family without temper tantrums when nothing is bought; without having problems at the table of a restaurant; without having to ever bribe for behaviour. Days like Black Friday are so full of these problems that you really appreciate what you have.
  • I am thankful that my wife shares my values so closely, and that by parenting by example as well as by lesson we have the joy of two boys who have manners and are polite - who will say 'thank you' and 'please' even when clerks in stores are rude.
  • I am proud of my boys school work. We were at a birthday party the week before, and report cards came out the day before. While others discussed their results, my wife and I were silent - because saying anything would sound like bragging. Which it would - both kids have already mastered all skills for their grades, and the teachers are challenging themselves to keep them challenged. See - sounds like bragging! But beyond brains and grades, there is attitude and behavior - and my boys are both called a joy to have in class. Too often kids who breeze through work end up with behavior issues, so I am proud and thankful that the bahavior they display everywhere is exemplary.
  • I am proud that my older son loves playing soccer and made the fall 'travel' team, and tries hard. No one will call him the best player out there, and he certainly inherited my speed (read: none), but he enjoys playing and does his best. For a kid who has so many things come easy, and so many things he is best at for his age, it is nice to see him be happy not shining.
  • The parent teacher conferences were unsurprising yet surprising at the same time. We have been told repeatedly - since kindergarten that we are the type of parent who always comes but doesn't need to, since there are no issues to discuss. Yet this year in particular, the praise heaped on the kids was something that stuck my wife and I, and we went to Dunkin Donuts for a coffee before going home and relieving the babysitter ... just to soak it all in.

    This was a very thankful year for my wife and I - and we got to focus on the greatest things we have, each other and our kids.
  • Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    Remembering the game - XIII (PC, 2003)

    XIII is one of those milestone games that tells a good and bad tale from my gaming life. I was very interested in this game based on what it offered - a quality FPS presented in a stylistic graphic novel presentation with a compelling story of mystery and intrugue that would require gamers to use their brains as well as their trigger fingers.

    Of course, anyone who has played the game knows it is really not all that great. Sure, it has style. Certainly, it has an interesting way of laying out the story. But after you get past those, you are left with a pretty average shooter which makes use of entirely too many gaming cliches.

    So why is it a milestone? Two reasons: timing and cross-platform compatibility. Let me explain.

    In the summer of 2003 I really hit my stride in terms of 'game anticipation'. Prior to that there was the rare game that I really looked forward to before release, but they all made sense - I anticipated 'Return to Castle Wolfenstein' as I had been playing 'Castle Wolfenstein' on my Apple ][+ many years before; I looked forward to 'Jedi Knight II' as a Star Wars fan and lover of the previous games in the series. But after my kids got old enough that I had some more free gaming time I started to keep track of what was coming, and prior to the release of 'Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic' I was also getting into RPG's as well as FPS. I was regularly 'talking' with like-minded groups of gamers all over the world, and many of us were looking forward to what seemed to be an interesting variation on the shooter theme. But the demo put questions in my head ... it just didn't seem all that compelling. So I put the game on my Christmas list, and when I got it I played straight through. It was a pretty decent game, and occasionally loads of fun.

    What about cross-platform compatibility? Ever since the Apple ][+, I've maintained some sort of Apple link ... especially for music stuff, as the best MIDI options have always been Mac programs. But for a number of years my gaming had been PC-centric. Once Apple launched the 'TiBook' - the high performance Titanium Powerbook G4 series - I grabbed one and was able to do hard disk recording as well as 'modern' gaming. So I started collecting up games ... and then, beginning in late 2002 with the release of Jedi Knight II for the Mac, I started my habit of 'dual purchasing' games. This meant that if I liked a game I would have it for both Mac and PC. So games like Deus Ex (the *real* one), Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, Fallout 1 & 2, NWN, KotOR, Soldier of Fortune II, Elite Force I & II, Jedi Academy, etc ... I got for both platforms, and was in many cases able to transfer files. The bottom line was that I preferred using the Mac because of the tremendous design and quality of the hardware and OS, but 'needed' the games way before they came to the Mac.

    But by the time XIII came out for the Mac things had started to change - the Mac hardware hadn't kept up, but mainly it was that with my greater interest in RPG and handheld games I simply couldn't justify the purchases ... especially when a game like KotOR had pretty marginal performance on the Mac compared to the PC. So I decided to skip XIII for the Mac. But yet I kept an eye on eBay for bargains ... why?!?! I really don't know ... but it ended up becoming one of the reasons I started up my 'Gaming Resolutions' - to remind myself to keep away from junk. As I said there, if you don't like enough to replay it on one platform, don't buy it on another!

    Today I uninstalled XIII from my gaming desktop, which was the last place I had it. I played a couple of levels 'for old times sake', and it is interesting, but quickly tiresome - it has good music, really cool visuals, a nice style, and not much else.

    But yet it stays with me more than many other games - even games that are much better. It holds some specific good memories from a group of gamer who rarely keep in touch any more, and also a cautionary tale I come back to frequently ... and even if the game isn't so good, at least I can be proud remembering it for those other things.

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    Is Gay Marriage Eating Itself?

    Buried deep in the news coverage of yesterday's "off-year" elections was the following item:

    Texans approved a "constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

    In the same area, you could find this:

    In Maine, voters turned back a measure placed on the ballot by a church-backed conservative coalition that would have repealed a gay-rights law approved by lawmakers earlier this year. The lawmakers had expanded the state’s human rights act to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    Is it me, or is there some cognitive dissonance here? On the one hand voters are saying that there should be no discrimination based on sexual preference, and on the other they are saying that there should be a 'separate but equal' institution for the partnership of couples based on sexual preference. Does that make any sense?

    Perhaps it does - not that I agree with it, but perhaps it makes sense based on the distinction between basic decency and the natural resistance to institutional change. But perhaps it is because the forces behind the gay marriage initiatives have overplayed their hand and made the voters uncomfortable.

    That is the only rational explanation I can think of. By the 90's it seemed that homexuality had gained acceptance as a naturally occuring sexual preference - as opposed to aberrant perversion. But then some groups began to take an 'in your face' approach to it, demanding special rights and priveledges, appearing in public wearing wholly inappropriate outfits, and basically behaving like the aberrant perverts that people feared. Naturally there has been some amount of backlash, and I think that is part of it.

    A larger part is the activism of so-called Christian Conservatives. They have decided that two loving homosexuals engaged in a loving union is a greater threat to the institution of marriage than 'drive by weddings' by celebrities and rampant spousal abuse. And they are using scare tactics to make people believe that homosexual marriage is an affront to existing marriages and will legitimize perversion.

    Why do I care? Because I want everyone to have the opportunity to have happiness without oppression, experience the love I share with my wife without legal limitations and stigma. And I have two boys - how can I know if perhaps one of them is homosexual? And if they are, I want them to be able to enjoy life to the fullest without repercussions or limitations based solely on sexual orientation.

    Monday, November 07, 2005

    What's On First

    No, not "who's on first" - although I am a big fan of Abbott & Costello! What's on first. What?!?

    I just got a new computer - and it is a whopper! A Dell XPS M170 (they've dropper the Inspiron attachment with this latest generation), fully decked out - 2GB of RAM, big hard drive, the latest Pentium 4M processor (2.26 GHz 'EE', not directly comparable to std. P4), and in particular a 256MB vNidia GeForce 7800 GTX video card mapped to a 17" widescreen 1900 x 1200 screen. Like I said, it is a monster.

    So I got is all set up, on our wireless network, all protected, then started setting up various applications and web sites and so on. Finally, I was ready to more on to games, and halted for a minute ...

    What should I put on first?

    For a very long time - more than 3.5 years now - my 'install first' game has been Jedi Knight II. I got a nice Dell Inspiron 8100 a month or so after getting JKII, and quickly installed and replayed the game through - and this time Yavin Swamp wasn't quite so choppy. That continued as I continued to get new laptops - I always get the top of the line, so they perform pretty well for a while. When the Mac version of JKII was released in late 2002, I installed and started to play and then got a new G4 Powerbook within a month - JKII was first on that system, and I was treated to the most beautiful and best performing Yavin experience to date. My last new PC system was a high-end Inspiron (non-XPS) in late 2003. I already had a nice Dimension desktop, and have just upgraded that to keep up. The Inspiron has managed to keep up pretty well - but I have had to scale back details and resolution to handle newer games like Doom 3 and Half-Life 2. More recently I have upgraded the video card on my Dimension to a GeForce 6600GT and been pretty pleased with performance for F.E.A.R. and Quake IV.

    But what should I put on the new PC first? Well, one thing for sure, I don't want to take the 'install loads of stuff' approach I've done with other PC's - there is too much junk left behind with the constant install/uninstall cycles. So I only want to put stuff there that I will absolutely play and really want.

    So what was I thinking about:
  • New games - I could definitely have put on F.E.A.R., Quake IV and Serious Sam 2. But Quake IV I've played and don't know when I'll play again, Serious Sam 2 I'm almost finished with and will most likely never play again. That leaves F.E.A.R., and I don't know when I'll replay that. So that wasn't it ...
  • Classic RPG's - I've been playing bits of some classic games like Arcanum, Baldur's Gate II, Planescape Torment, and so on. I could certainly install them on this PC, but since they all run great on my work ultra-portable, why bother? Same goes for Geneforge 3 from Spiderweb, which I've played some of but still have a *long* way to go. Still not the right fit ...
  • Gothic 2 - I was replaying this when Fable: The Lost Chapters came out, and am looking forward to getting back to playing. However, the 'Gothic 2 Gold' is coming in the next couple of weeks, and includes both the original and 'Night of the Raven' expansion, which was released in Germany in 2003 but unavailable thus far in the US. So that will wait.
  • Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines - tempting, but I have a game mid-stream on the Dimension, and if I re-installed, I'd want to restart with a new character. So not quite yet.
  • Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords - I also have a game mid-stream on the Dimension ... same reasoning as Bloodlines.
  • Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic - I just started replaying this one the Mac. Falls into the same basic RPG restart/replay rule as the others.
  • Soldier of Fortune II - I recently replayed this, and am not really itching for another run quite yet.
  • No One Lives Forever I & II - very tempting, and they will be installed soon enough - I *have* been itching for more Cate Archer action ... terribly under-rated games.

    So that left me with a couple in the front of my mind - Jedi Academy and JKII. I had pretty recently played the whole Dark Forces series, but these are always good for a go. I like Jedi Academy in terms of customization and character development, but JKII is a better story and overall game. But in the end it came down to the fact that JKII is one CD, and I have it in my 'game CD carrier' ... Jedi Academy would have required a 'trip to the vault'.

    So JKII was once again 'first installed'. It is clearly not a game to show off the power of this system, but it remains one of my all-time favorite games.

    But ... what about Half-Life 2?!?! Brilliant though it is, it just isn't one of my favorites. I played it again recently, and am quite satisfied for a while. When the expansion comes out, it will no doubt go on the new system ... and we'll see what else I play on it before then.
  • Friday, November 04, 2005

    Time For A Break

    Discussion forums have been at the heart of my internet experience since the mid-late 80's on university mainframes. For the longest time I was involved in USENET groups covering everything from Statistics to Programming to Handheld PDA's to Jazz and finally Gaming. It is only recently that the reality of the 'Death of USENET' has caused me to stop checking the newsgroups.

    I have never gotten much into 'internet chat', but remember well the advent of 'web forums', and resisted them every step of the way. Why bother checking at and and various small, specialized sites when you can just have a dozen or so groups you're subscribed to. Over time, though, the USENET groups shrank in their audience and relevence while the Web forums grew. Instead of the convenience of a few groups in one application from a single source, I was now faced with monitoring many web forums in addition to USENET. That was unsustainable, and in the end I dropped out of one USENET group after another.

    Some of it was tough - you develop relationships with these people, some of whom I had 'known' online for 10 years or more. Some keep in touch, but for most it is all just memories of the 'good old days'.

    The same thing happens on Web Forums - people come and go, communities are fluid, and so is the focus. For example, one of the first non-technical communities I became part of was at '', which I had found and lurked around while waiting for a game called 'Obi-Wan' that was in development for the PC. After Obi-Wan was cancelled, speculation turned to confirmation that there would be a true successor to the classic Jedi Knight, I became a very active member of the forums. There were many people of a similar age group - their 30's - in the crowd, as well as someone who also used a Mac on a regular basis as well as PC's. That crowd became pretty close-knit over the ensuing months of speculation and dribbled-out information, and some decent relationships were formed. Immediately following the game's release, however, the average age of members seemed to drop by half, as did the maturity and respectfullness of the discourse. Several people left the community almost immediately, others lasted longer, still others never left.

    I personally realized that it was time for a break - for me to part with the community and just check in occasionally.

    Several months later, Jedi Academy was announced, and while the pre-JKII level of intelligent dialogue never resturned, the community became somewhat more mature and focused. A few months after Jedi Academy was released, however, it became clear that as the average age had dropped to about 15, the ability to discuss anything not of interest to 15-year old male Star Wars fanatics was quite limited. So, despite having a few friends, it was time for me to leave. And it was a good thing for me, as it allowed me to better spend my forum time. I will still check in on occasion, probably every month or two, and perhaps even reply to a post, but largely it is a part of my past.

    There was another Star Wars gaming site formed largely by people disillusioned by the JK site, who wanted a place of their own. They were by and large older and more serious, and after talking to a couple of my best 'friends' from the original site, I joined that community. Growing a community is a good thing, but when sampling from the same pool you'll get the same water, as it were. So as the new forums grew, some from the old site came along for the ride - many frequent both places. In addition, personal reasons caused one of my oldest and closest online friends to have to all but leave the forum worlds at large, leaving me pondering what to do. I was finding the discussion I was involved with were not worthwhile for the time I was spending, and that I was putting an effort into a community for which I was not seeing a return in value.

    I once again realized that it was time for a break, to step away for a while, then come back with a fresh perspective and decide what level of involvement was appropriate. During that break I was contacted by four people from the site - one person was the founder, a young guy who was pretty decent and just wanted to check in, and the other three were people I'd been involved with for nearly five years - they were all parents, gamers and Star Wars fans, and all understood what I was thinking, but wanted me around regardless. I realized then that the community I sought was right there, and happily returned - in a much lighter mode.

    One of the reasons for this post is that I heard from an old friend today - someone who I have known since some of my earliest days of PDA's, back in the HP200LX days in the early 90's. We were involved with Microsoft directly in some of the beta testing for their earliest PDA forays, and stuck together through the Newton demise. After a couple of years in the Pocket PC world, each of us was heading in a different direction. We still keep in touch, but that is pretty much all that is left of what was once a big part of my 'hobby forum time' - PDA's.

    It is interesting how things change over time.

    I have always been a gamer - back to Pong in the 70's. And my top priority in life is my family. So is it any surprise that perhaps the biggest forum time involment - and major gamign writing commitment - is at GamerDad? Andrew Bub had a vision to create a place not for kids, but for parents who care about games, care about kids and care about the games their kids play. I have been full on-board with that vision from the moment I heard about it (can't recall where) nearly 2.5 years ago. And during that time, as other forums or newsgroups have come and gone, GamerDad has remained. Why? Because it is the community that makes sense to me - adults, gamers and (mostly) parents.

    So how does this tie in? Well, despite being a member for over 2 years and a very active member for most of that time, it is really in the past year since I have become first a reviewer and now also a regular columnist that I have felt a true part of the site. Like I am part of making something real and of value, which is not something that happens much in the non-hobby part of a hobby. I like contributing articles and reviews to the site, and take pride not only getting emails from people about the articles, but from getting people giving praise about the site in general and how cool it is what we are doing.

    But last week I had sort of a "who's your daddy" moment at GamerDad ... and not for the first time. While the site is generally friendly and light, we occasionally wander into more serious territory. And when we do, things can get pretty heated. That is fine, I can deal with that. But there is a saying that goes something like 'don't critique the wine choice when you're a guest for dinner'. The problem is that when you are working in a forum that is generally light it is easy to toss somewhat flippant comments around. Occasionally you need to provide the proper context, or just say that you were off-base. But there is a different feeling when it is with the creator and owner of a site, especially one who can give a pretty decent smack-down. For whatever reason, despite the generally great relationships I have in general at the site and specifically with this person, I let this bug the heck out of me for a while.

    After that I asked myself - is it time for a break here? The thought barely crossed my mind before I knew the answer - NO! This was just a normal disagreement that felt weird because of the relative positions of the participants. There have been instances before and after from others where they have made comments along the same lines "it is your site after all ... " And I realize, it isn't just me - and it isn't necessarily related to him - it is likely just due to the position.

    I also have had a couple of other 'blasts from the past' in the last couple of weeks. A couple of other online friends have contacted me - one from my heaviest programming days, the other from my even more remote music past. It is amazing how things change - neither one was involved with the stuff they were doing back when we talked all of the time. For my music friend, that was no surprise - neither one of us figured a career in music. He ended up in a corporate job at a large office supplies store chain based in our area.

    The other one was more interesting. Here was a guy I had loads of contact with for quite a while using Turbo C++ for DOS, involved with in the early VB days - not some superstar from one of the big companies, but a reasonable programmer on Usenet, someone who did that stuff for a living. So what is he up to now? He has a small farm in Vermont. Huh? How did that happen? Seems he decided it was time for a break, and never looked back ...
    Bookworm ... or, just checking my references ...

    These days you hear about falling literacy rates all over the place, how kids would rather plug into to watch Cartoon Network or play on the PS2 than pick up a book. We have always worked to instill a love of reading in our kids, and apparently it worked ... my younger son was reading a Usborne book on crystals he had gotten from the library, and it referred to the bible as a historical reference for a certain piece of crystal used on armor. He has probably read more of the Bible than the rest of the family - it started with reading the stories of Daniel in his 'Children's Bible' after watching the VeggieTales video, but he quickly grew into the full 'Good News Bible' I had gotten back when I was in CCD as a kid. When I walked into his room, I expected him to be reading on of the Droon or Narnia books, or perhaps a Garfield book ... but this floored me and I had to capture the moment.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    Halloween Fun

    We did things a little different this year.

    Normally we spend a bunch of time decorating the house, getting the inside and outside all ready, and get two sets of pumpkins - one in September just for decorations, and the other for carving. We work on our costumes as a family and are all ready well before Halloween.

    This year we were contacted by a friend who was involved with the town recreation department. Seems they wanted to restart the traditional Haunted House that had been held for many years in the old basement of the local Congregational Church, but hadn't been done is a couple of years. Since we're well known in town for dressing up each year, and for using a family theme, we were tapped early on to volunteer.

    The Haunted House is entirely a volunteer effort, and sought to allow the town some fun and cheap thrills, while helping to fund other activities for the recreation department throughout the year. So we started having organizational meetings. The leader of the effort had stated that he was very interested in us being 'The Star Wars Family', as that is a very popular theme for us. We would work outside, along the line, entertaining people before they entered.

    As ideas for scenes started to arise, a great many came from the two seats next to my wife and I ... and one in particular. Now you have to know my younger son - he has a tremendous imagination, and is scared of loads of things. So he comes up with the idea for a monster laboratory in which people are fed potions which turns them into monsters, and there is all kinds of scary stuff going on. He describes it is pretty decent detail ... and everyone is very enthusiastic. He also talks about a haunted fortune teller who has bad fortunes for everyone. My other son talks about a cemetary full of zombie animals. There is other stuff that they talked about that there wasn't the time of people to get done.

    As it came time to put it all together, between Cub Scouts and my older son getting sick, I was alone in helping with assembly for the week. The Haunted House was running Friday and Saturday nights, so Thursday night we planned a final walkthrough and dress rehearsal. It was cold that night, which was good becuase it told us we didn't dress heavily enough under the costumes - so we made a note to bundle up better. When it came to the walkthrough, we didn't even get inside and my son was *done*. No way was he going in ... eventually we convinced him to stand by the Fortune Teller at the door so we could help out inside and the outside door could be closed.

    Friday night, we arrived early - the doors opened at 6PM and we wanted to have ourselves ready to go. The temperature was about 30 degrees at 5:30 when we left the house. We had a few canned skits - one with a Stormtrooper capturing Princess Leia and bringing her to Darth Vader, only to have Luke cut down the Stormtrooper and do battle with Vader to cover Leia's escape. Others included playing out chases and battles from the movies and improvising scenes - these mainly were done to involve people in line, Luke and Leia would try to keep them safe from the Imperials, and I would go around menacing them into revealing the location of Leia or the rebels. It was all great fun, but after three hours we were exhausted and done.

    We didn't get to view the haunted house in action the first night, which was fine - there was another night to go! Saturday night was just about as cold, but we had dressed well the previous night. This time we brought a mug of hot chocolate for everyone and some water. It only took us about an hour to feel 'done' the second night, and then we struggled for a bit, but found a good improvisational rhythm and thorought enjoyed the last hour or so.

    As the line dwindled, we had the chance to go through the Haunted House ourselves. Not surprisingly my younger son wasn't interested, but my older son was. So he and I went through - it was great seeing everything completed and in action, and it was fun. Apparently my younger son was starting to freak out that we had been gone too long and that perhaps something had happened, but we came out unscathed. A clean-up session ensued, and we went home and all fell into bed exhausted.

    After all of that activity and a busy weekend of soccer and cub scout hikes, Halloween was upon us - we hadn't finished decorating, and it was Sunday before we got our pumpkins. We had a relaxing and fun time carving them, and my wife put out a few more exterior decorations for Monday. Trick or Treat was done as ... yep, the Star Wars family. My wife never got dressed - for which she took a good deal of grief from the neighborhood kids and adults alike. We saw some of the people who had participated in the haunted house, and collapsed into bed full of sugar.

    We probably won't do that again next year - standing outside for three hours a night isn't much fun and we know better than to be located inside. But for this year it was some wonderful Halloween Fun.