Kathy's All-Purpose Blog

I guess some people have different blogs for different subjects, but this is it for me, baby. One blog to bring them all, or something.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Back to School

I really liked school when I was a kid. I was always good at academic stuff, and I guess we always like doing what we're good at. So when back-to-school time approached, I always greeted it with a feeling of excitement. Oh, there was sadness mixed in there, too. The freedom of summer was ending, and I was a kid, not a saint. Still, it was exciting to think of a brand-new school year, with brand-new experiences to have and brand-new stuff to learn.

A big part of it, of course, was shopping for new school clothes. I always liked that. I loved having new things to wear, and planning out which ones I'd wear on which days, and how great I'd look. That last part didn't always work out, but the excitement never went away. And I'd buy new notebooks and pencils and pens and erasers, and promise myself that this year, I'd keep everything looking nice. This year, my school notebook wouldn't look like a disaster area by the time the school year ended. That part never worked out; I've always been hard on things that I use a lot. That never seemed to dim my excitement very much, either.

Finally, there was the anticipation of the last few days, culminating in the First Day of School. I'd put on some of my brand-new clothes, and take up my brand-new school supplies, and go off to see what the brand-new year had in store for me.

Since leaving college, I haven't really done the back-to-school thing. I don't have kids, so for me, back-to-school has become something stores do once a year. Every once in a while, I'd vaguely remember what it was like, and be a little sad because that part of my life is behind me for good.

This year, though, I have back-to-school excitement all over again. It's largely an accident of timing, but it just happens that next Tuesday I start my new job. It's the same time of year I always went back to school (Seattle Public Schools always start the Wednesday after Labor Day), and I'm as excited about this job as I ever was about a new school year. And I've been buying clothes. After nearly ten years of working from home, I need to punch up my work wardrobe a little bit.

True, I've had to order them out of catalogs, because I'm still a size they don't really have in stores. So my newest clothes aren't actually here yet. That hasn't stopped me, though, from planning out what I'm going to wear on the First Day of School--I mean Work. And what I'm going to bring for lunch, and which bag I'm going to carry. Not to mention what I'm going to wear on the second day, and the third day.... I also know I'll wind up laying out my clothes the night before (as if I'd forget what I planned out), then have a hard time falling asleep because I'll be so excited.

Basically, it's just like old times. I'm going Back to School. Wish me luck. :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On Hospitals

I haven't blogged in a while. Part of that was due to laziness and lack of topic, but part of it was because I spent a good bit of July in the hospital. I was hospitalized with pancreatitis from July 3 through 7. I returned to the emergency room on July 28 with recurring pain, and was treated and released. The following day, July 29, I went in for my (already-scheduled) appointment with the surgeons, who decided that my gall bladder needed to come out right then. Surprise! So I had surgery and spent another two nights in the hospital, coming home on July 31.

Some people don't like hospitals. They see them as places of illness, or places where people come to die. I sympathize, but don't share this viewpoint. I wouldn't go so far as to say I like hospitals, but they serve a purpose. I've always thought of hospitals as places where people come to get better (even though my mom died in one), and recent events aren't likely to change my mind. I've discovered that, when you're sick enough to need them, hospitals are darned useful.

Here are some nice things about hospitals. First, they have the good drugs. Pancratitis is a painful condition, and it was very nice to get the more powerful pain meds. The pain didn't go away--not entirely--but I was all floaty and pretty much didn't care. The second nice thing about hospitals is the whole philosophy of being there. After weeks of trying to put up with this "stomachache" and still do all the things I needed to do, it was a tremendous relief to lie in a hospital bed and know that my only job was to rest and feel better. Other people were going to worry about the rest of it, and I needed that. Another nice thing about hospitals is that food just shows up three times a day. Okay, so most of the time I was there I wasn't actually eating (or drinking) anything, but when I was, it was nice that food just showed up. When you're not feeling too hot, it's easy to forget to eat, or say "I'll eat later," and then don't. And finally, let's not forget those cool beds that adjust at the push of a button. Very nice when you hurt and are trying to find a good position.

There are things about hospitals that are less nice, of course. Your butt hangs out of those stupid gowns, and they wake you up in the middle of the night to take your vital signs. Hospitals do smell funny, the food isn't that great, and the beds are pretty hard (even though they do that cool adjust-y thing). And, when you get to feeling better, there's nothing much to do. And they don't allow cats. I missed my kitty.

Still, you won't catch me bad-mouthing hospitals. When you need one, they're terrific. And I sill think of them as places where people go to get better. I know I did.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Tea and a Facial

This past weekend, I went up to Victoria, BC. For those of you who haven't been lucky enough to go there, Victoria is a beautiful little city with lots of fun things to do. It's the provincial capital of British Columbia, and the architecture has to be seen to be believed.

I went up on a package deal that included a night at the amazing Empress hotel and a treatment in their spa. I chose the facial. Then I had afternoon tea at the Empress.

I highly recommend all of these things. I had a wonderful, relaxing vacation and my face is all dewey and healthy-looking.

I ate too much, though. Nothing's perfect.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Weird Thing About My Fridge

So, here's the weird thing about my fridge. Since I started trying to eat healthier and lose weight, it's a lot fuller than it used to be. This seems counter-intuitive.

There's a couple of reasons for it. For one thing, my pre-diet habits tended to favor "cupboard" foods like cookies, candy, and snack cakes. My cupboards are as full as ever, though, so that's not the whole reason.

The main reason is variety. I think I've realized that if I'm going to stick with this plan, I need lots and lots of options. So if (for example) I decided I'm not in the mood for the pint of strawberries, I can opt for applesauce, or fat-free cottage cheese, or sugar-free chocolate pudding, or something else. In the fridge. Man, it's crowded in there.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Let Me Tell You About My Character: Vorelle

Vorelle was first created when my friend Tony was getting ready to start a new campaign. It was going to be set in the Forgotten Realms, and everybody was going to need a new character (or at least, a different character from the one we'd been playing in the old campaign). Of course, I didn't make just one new character, because why make one when you can make three?

I do that a lot, actually. I like making new characters, and trying new things, so when asked to create one new character for a new campagin, I'll likely as not show up with a selection for the DM to look at. Of course, the DMs always say, "Play whichever one you want to play," which is no help at all.

Anyway, for this Forgotten Realms campaign, I decided to see what I could do with a Ranger. For inspiration, I turned to the Hero Builder's Guidebook, an excellent D&D reference, and began rolling randomly on their character background tables. I made some interesting rolls. My new Ranger's family turned out to be not very nice people; they came out as both poor and evil, which I interpreted as petty (and not very competent) criminals. I began to get a picture of this character as the only good member of a pretty rotten family, who (perhaps) had taken to wandering the woods in an attempt to escape her home life.

I started to wonder what it must be like for a good character to have to be constantly battling with her family. What would that constant conflict do to a person?

I remembered an interesting thing that happened in Lois McMaster Bujold's book, Shards of Honor. The heroine has been tasked with keeping a secret, and everyone around her (under the impression that they're helping her) is trying to get her to talk about it. She has to watch what she says so closely that she develops a stutter.

I don't know whether that's medically sound or not, but it was a cool literary device and I decided to swipe it for my character. Because of her constant family conflict, she'd be shy and withdrawn, not really comfortable around people. And because she'd had to watch what she said for so long, she'd have a stutter.

I had the basic character, so now I had to name her. The Forgotten Realms sourcebook, while an outstanding refernece in most respects, uses the very annoying "six names" method of conveying naming conventions; instead of actually explaining what the naming convention of particular culture is, they just give you six sample names and call it good. In an earlier post, I discussed why that's no good. I didn't want to use one of the six, but I did want to find something that vaguely fit. Taking a look at the names, I tentatively decided that they sounded vaguely European, sort of French with a bit of German on the side.

Armed with my baby name book (an invaluable resource for any gamer), I set out to create a French-y name. I rejected the "-ette" ending immediately as too obviously French...but the "-elle" ending, I thought, had possibilities. I scanned for a suitable syllable to go on the beginning, and was looking, I think, at "Veronique." "Verelle" was okay, but I decided I liked "Vorelle" better, and I had my name. As made-up names go, I think it's one of my better ones. It isn't a real name, but it sounds like it ought to be, which is (in my opinion) what you should be shooting for in a made-up name.

And, after all that...I didn't use the character in the Forgotten Realms campagin. I opted for a version of the Grace character instead. I kept the single paragraph write-up for Vorelle anyway, because she was an intereting character and I thought I might get the chance to play her someday.

My chance came less than a year later when I joined an online game in the Wold. The game I was joining took place in a "City of Thieves" which was trying to go straight. The players were exchanging e-mails about what kinds of characters to create, and we'd decided that it would be kind of cool to have an "all-stealth" group. A lot of Rogues, sure, but also other kinds of stealthy characters--notably Rangers.

My initial character idea for a Rogue got rejected as too dark for the world (and she's quite a character, too; I'll need to do a Blog entry about her someday). I was poking around looking for ideas for an alternate character, and came across my notes on Vorelle. I thought she might be interesting to play--and the stutter struck me as much more do-able when I was typing my character's words and actions rather than actually trying to speak like that.

I've been playing Vorelle on line for just short of two years now, and I have to say she has surprised me. I knew that giving her that stutter would make her an interesting character, but what I didn't appreciate was how heartbreakingly vulnerable it would make her. Here's somebody who pretty much can't talk, and I continue to be surprised at how often that's actually dangerous. Vorelle is a fun and interesting character, with all kinds of growth possibilities. I'm having fun playing her, and I know she's made an impression on my fellow gamers.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

What Happened Thursday

Wednesday night, or rather very early Thursday morning, I woke up in the night, needing to use the bathroom. That's not unusual for me; I get up three or four times most nights. So I got up, went into the bathroom, sat on the commode, and tinkled. So far, so good.

The next thing I remember is trying to gather my thoughts, which seemed really scattered. They were chasing each other around in my head like little bunnies, but I couldn't get two of them to string themselves together to make anything coherent. Then I realized that I was lying, not in my bed as I'd been assuming, but on a cold tile floor.

Believe it or not, that's not too terribly unusual for me, either. I'm a fainter. I've fainted before and will doubtless do so again. And when I come to, I'm usually very disoriented and confused not to be waking up in bed. What was unusual was that I'd had absolutely no warning signs. No dizziness, no shortness of breath, no sensation that I'm experiencing the world from the end of a very long tunnel--all of which I usually get before I keel over. Nope, one minute I was sitting on the commode and the next minute I was lying on the floor.

My cat was meowing, so I started talking to her to try to reassure her. I realized that I had fetched up against the door and my body was keeping it shut. The cat, who was accustomed to being able to just push her way in, was concerned. Or possibly miffed; it's hard to tell with cats. But while I was talking, I realized that my teeth felt really sharp.

When I felt up to it (which was another minute or so) I got up, and I looked at my teeth in the bathroom mirror. Sure enough, two of them were broken clean off.

By this time I was pretty freaked out, so I went and got the phone. I laid back down on the bed (I didn't want to keel over again) and tried to figure out who to call. 911? The obvious answer, but I needed some hand-holding and the paramedics weren't likely to provide it. Besides, what if I was just being silly? What if it was all nothing? What if I went to the emergency room in my nightie and it turned out to be no big deal? How embarrassing.

I ran through a mental list of people I could call at 2:15 am (because that was the time), and my friend Dave won. Or lost, depending on how you look at it. I called Dave, and he picked up on the second ring. I said "I just fainted with no warning and I broke two teeth and I'm really freaked out," and Dave said, "I'll be right over." This is one of the roughly two million things that makes Dave such a good friend.

I unlocked the door and laid back down, and by the time Dave got there I was thinking something like my old self. Of course I'd have to go to the hospital. I'd fainted and I didn't know why, and that could be serious. Dave came and talked to me for a bit, then waited while I got dressed, then took me to the emergency room and stayed with me until I was discharged around 6 am. Dave rocks.

The ER doctor said that sometimes when the bladder contracts it can trigger a fainting response, and that sometimes people faint with no warning signs beforehand. He agreed with me that it was unusual, and worth looking into, but absent any other evidence it would appear to be just one of those things. So they did lots and lots of tests at the hospital. I had an EKG, and a CAT scan, and blood and urine tests, and a chest X-ray (for reasons I'm still not clear on). And when all the results came back....we still had no idea. Just one of those things, I guess.

By now my face was beginning to hurt. They kept asking me at the hospital what I'd hit my teeth/face/chin on, and I kept explaining that I had no idea. I was unconscious at the time, you see. But they prescribed me Vicodin for the pain, and then Dave drove me to the 24-hour Walgreen's to get the prescription filled.

Back home, I called and left a message with my dentist, whose office was scheduled to open at 8 am. I was by now very, very tired, having had maybe 2 hours' sleep and being on Vicodin besides. But I was sure the dentist's office would call me right back at 8 and I might as well stay up because then I'd know when my appointment was and how long I'd have to sleep.

Eight came and went, and I was really, really sleepy. I took the phone to bed with me, thinking they'd for sure call back any minute and meanwhile it would be lovely to get horizontal. My dentist's receptionist did call me back, full of sympathy and apologies. It seems that last week, when it rained so hard, the office had flooded. They were closed.

She managed to get an appointment for me with another dentist who used to share a practice with my dentist. The trouble was, this other dentist was in Kirkland, and being no-sleep-Vicodin girl, there was no way I should be getting behind the wheel. The other challenge was, the appointment was for 10 am, and it was now 8:50; I had just over an hour to find somebody to drive me on what is usually a 40-minute trip. I called my friend Judith, but she had to get her daughter to kindergarten. I called Dave, but he'd gone to sleep. Thea didn't answer, Beverly doesn't drive, and I knew Rick had an appointment, so I ended up calling a cab (which worked out fine, so none of the people mentioned should feel bad at all).

The dentist fixed my teeth, and did a great job, and I took a cab home and was at last able to sleep.

So now I have bruises on my face, and the gums and nerves where my teeth broke are still really sore. I can't bite (or even put my front teeth together really), and I lisp when I talk. Solid food is not my friend. But I still have some Vicodin left.

So anyway, that is the tale of my Thursday adventure. I'd just as soon not repeat it, but I'm actually pretty optimistic that I won't, after having all those tests at the hospital.

Oh, and judging by the bruise on my chin, it was the tile floor that I hit. There's an actual grout line.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The All-Important Name

One thing that comes up frequently when roleplaying is what to name your character. Ideally, of course, you have one character that you keep playing for years and years, but most gaming groups just don't work out that way. Groups split and re-form, new DMs take over, new campaign settings are used, and gamers find themselves with new characters needing new names.

The place I like to start when naming a new character is the naming conventions for the world I'll be playing in. I think it really helps the continuity and "world flavor" of a game if everybody names their character using the same rules. Unfortunately, too few settings (both published and home-brew) have anything close to a consistent system for names. Some have no rules at all, and others have adopted the maddening practice of listing a handful of names from a given culture, as if that was all anybody would need. It sets up the absurd scenario where all characters from that culture have the same five names, or it forces players to try to cobble together original names by randomly combining syllables. This is ridiculously unrealistic. Given the list Ann, Jane, Katherine, Mary, and Susan, there's no way a person could possibly come up with "Elizabeth"--yet it is also a common English woman's name.

The travails of naming a character don't end with the naming conventions, though. The next thing to be considered, in my opinion, is your fellow gamers. Your characters will spend many hours together, sitting around the campfire talking of this or that. They will stand by one another through thick and thin. They will become Stalwart Companions, who--among other things--will be able to remember each other's names. Even if they're really, really complicated. You and your fellow players, however, will not be spending days at a time in each others' company (and if you do, you will probably use real names and not character names). Meanwhile, your fellow gamers have jobs and school and mortgages and kids and bills and other activities they're doing with their time. Their mind space is limited, so if you name your character Aelthlindigar son of Erdordigar son of Frokolditheld, you really shouldn't be too surprised when nobody can remember it (or pronounce it). And when gamers can't remember or pronounce your character's name, they will gladly substitute a word they do know (which is how I've come to call one of the other characters in one of my games "Helvetica").

When naming a fantasy character, I like to use "real" names. There are a couple of reasons for this. First is the thing about giving your fellow gamers a break; they're more likey to know and remember a "real" name than a made-up one. The second reason is that, in general, we aren't very good at making up names. Tolkein did it really, really well, but most of us aren't Tolkein and quite frankly suck at it. Real names have to be chosen with care, of course, so they aren't too modern-sounding and don't clash with the flavor of the setting. "No Bobs" is one of the rules in the Hero Builder's Guidebook, and I agree to a point. There's no reason, though, that a fantasy character can't be named Vladimir, or Sebastian, or Frieda.

One last trick I have is to use a nickname. This works well when the setting does have naming conventions, but those conventions lead you to made-up names that are going to be hard to remember. "I'm Kerindri Esveleen Evengold," one of my characters always says in introductions, "but you can call me Skeeter; everybody does." Her real name uses the naming conventions; her nickname ensures that the others at the table will remember what to call her. Rina, whom I've already talked about, is also using a nickname; her full name is Elanorina Pagomel. Another good use for a nickname is as a "placeholder" when you're not sure what your character's real name is. I played a character called "Swiftblade" for years; I had to name her in a hurry and I didn't know what kind of name she'd have. So I went with an "everybody calls me" nickname until I figured it out.

As a summary, here are the characters I'm currently playing (or have played recently), broken down by type of name.

Real Names: Euphemia, Grace, Poppy, Rhonwen, Sigrid, Talullah
Nicknames: Rina, Skeeter, Swiftblade
Made-up Names (yes, I do this occasionally): Tamarinth, Tulehara, Vorelle